From "the dog ate it" to "I must've left it at home," we all know schoolchildren can be pretty darn creative when it comes to unfinished homework excuses. But for some kids in South Africa, it's not a fun game at all.
Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane are two childhood friends from the rural platinum-mining town Mogwase. Growing up, Thato and Rea both witnessed the challenges local underprivileged kids face every day — long, dangerous walks to school, lack of supplies, etc.
However, one of their biggest hardships is something most of us take for granted — electricity. Or the lack of it, to be more precise.
'One of the first obstacles these kids face is not being able to finish their homework. If a child doesn't have access to light, then as soon as the sun goes down there is [nothing] to do but sleep,' Kgatlhanye tells CNN.
Most unprivileged households that live with little or no electricity use candles or kerosene lamps. However, their resources are often very limited, not to mention that chronic exposure to kerosene causes a number of health hazards, such as dermatitis and respiratory problems.
But what prevents them from finishing homework on time? Not procrastination.
According to various reports, schoolchildren in South Africa are forced to travel long distances to access their education. The trek can be 10 miles or more and often includes additional risks of robbery, rape, snake bites and so on.
By the moment they get home, there's simply not enough time left to do all the chores and finish homework before it gets dark.
'So what's the solution to all of these problems?!' you may ask. Thato and Rea's answer — a schoolbag.
But not just any schoolbag ...
Kgatlhanye and Ngwane's co-founded startup Rethaka focuses on providing low-income families in South Africa with sustainable and innovative school backpacks.
Their durable, waterproof bags are made entirely from recycled plastic. But here's the best part — because of an integrated solar panel, the backpack doubles as a night lamp, providing children with much needed light.
'The solar panel charges during the child's walk to school and transforms into a solar lantern to study for up to 12 hours,' Rethaka writes on its website.
Rethaka works with landfill sites and local schools to collect the plastic and send it to its workshop, where it turns it into a textile suitable for sewing up with industrial sewing machines.
The company also has a streamlined process of distribution that involves pairing disadvantaged schools with "giving partners" — corporations and individuals willing to fund the making of the bags. Once the match is made, Rethaka organizes a themed handover event at the school.
Kgatlhanye believes the product not only allows children to pursue education in a dignified way, but also teaches the community about waste and recycling.