🗞 Banking on children

Schoolboy banker helps kids go to school

Adults used to laugh at Jose Adolfo. They hung up the phone or said a child should leave such matters to grown-ups.

They’re not laughing at him now. Jose Adolfo is still just 14 but for seven years he has run his own bank and rubbish recycling scheme in Peru. Now he stars in a French film. It came out in cinemas last week and its message, he says, is this: “You may not know it yet, but we children are saving the world”.

When he was 7, Jose Adolfo saw classmates missing school because they had to work to earn money. That happens a lot in Peru and other poor countries. He decided to set up a bank to help them.

Do you know how a bank works? Kids put money in whenever they had a little to spare – that’s saving. It adds up, bit by bit, so that when they need something, they have enough money.

Most adults, even his mum, didn’t take him seriously. But his dad helped him get it going.

However, a bank doesn’t help a lot if you never have money. Then he had a brainwave. Recycling. That’s when factories take rubbish and turn it into something we can use again.

Jose Adolfo gets children to bring not just spare coins but also rubbish, like old school exercise books, to the bank. By collecting garbage, they’re cleaning the environment – something Jose Adolfo learned to love when he helped his granny water her plants. But the rubbish they collect is also worth money.

The Students Bank has about 3,000 savers. Together, they gather up to 4 tonnes of waste a month – that’s like 2 or 3 cars! Because it’s a lot, Jose Adolfo gets recycling firms to pay him a good price for it. That money goes back to the children – every time you bring 1 kilogram of rubbish (the weight of a litre of milk), you get up to 20 cents.

If you open an account, you get a little plastic card. When you put it in a cash machine – like your parents do – it tells you how much you have and you can take some out. Children say the bank helps them to stay in school and cleans their city.

Poor Jose Adolfo is so busy with all this that he doesn’t have time to go to school himself. He does lessons on a computer. Sometimes, he says, it all gets a bit much.

There are two Jose Adolfos, he jokes. There’s the successful entrepreneur – someone who has started a business. And there’s the ordinary boy from Peru who loves his Harry Potter pillow and just wants to go to bed. His dad helps him have a laugh, though, and it’s all worth it.

“I’m not alone,” he says in the film, which is called Tomorrow is Ours. Millions of children are finding a way, however small, to help their communities.

“We all want the same thing,” Jose Adolfo says. “To make tomorrow a better world.”

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