Cardboard desk

In most of the developed world, education is a right, not a luxury. But in India, the children who are able to attend school often don’t even have chairs to sit on or desks to write on. To address some of these problems, Aarambh, a nonprofit organization based in New Bombay, created a dual-purpose portable flat pack desk made from recycled cardboard boxes.

The simple yet clever Help Desk design is made from cartons collected from recycling centers, retail businesses, and offices. Simple outlines are stenciled onto the cardboard, which is then cut and folded into a unique shape that allows it to be used as a desk or as a briefcase-like backpack.

Help Desk made from a cardboard box

The lack of desks is not only inconvenient; it can result in eye strain, back pain, and lasting physical discomfort. The Help Desk provides schoolchildren with a flat surface to work on, easing the strain on their backs. It also gives kids a convenient way to carry their supplies to and from school – much more convenient than the plastic shopping bags that many of them currently use.

Help Desk flat

Help Desk assembled

The desks/backpack cardboard furniture combinations only cost about 20 cents a piece to produce. Aarambh already distributed some of the Help Desks to schoolchildren in rural Maharashtra, and their concept was proven. The children who used the desks were able to work more comfortably and effectively. Although there are many other obstacles facing effective communication in rural Indian communities, Aarambh is working to deliver solutions that will make education more accessible to marginalized families.

With so much packaging waste in the world, it’s great to see some of it diverted into projects that don’t just reuse it, but transform it for the greater good. That’s true upcycling in action, taking something with low value and making it into something better with a potentially longer life.