Upcycle Courses for Children


The fundamental goal of my courses for children?
"Through play, get a message across."

I have always believed that all kids love to play, and that there’s no better way for children to learn than when they are having fun.

In 2014 I started a project focused on to teach underprivileged schoolchildren in Vietnam and Cambodia, how to upcycle plastic waste into DIY kids crafts – kites.

Aims of the project:

  1. Share a “know how” with disadvantaged children.
  2. Give a second life to plastic waste / plastic bags.
  3. Point the issue of plastic waste pollution.

This project is my personal initiative, and it’s not related to a company project, or of an organization, or even a religious denomination.
It’s just my call, and everything happened with only one guy (me) on the ground.

All about, these courses aimed as a sort of solidarity and humanist project involving recycling and education – some fun-filled ecological courses for underprivileged children.

black and white photo of children playing kite
The very first time a participating child plays with one of my project's kites - Vietnam, 2014

NGOs Schools

I was voluntarily organizing my courses in cooperation with NGOs schools caring for underprivileged schoolchildren in Vietnam and Cambodia.

I have organized 15 courses, worked with ~350 children, and collected and upcycled thousands of plastic bags.

Each course lasts ~12 days, enough time for children to become autonomous with their new crafting skills.

curved arrow Tab the image
Click the image curved arrow
curved arrow Tab the image
curved arrow Click the image

Plastic Bags / Plastic Waste

The founding principle of my project was surely not to use new plastic bags to create my crafts with the children. So, the first step was to collect discarded plastic bags that we could reused.

Even if most of the areas, even local landfills (where we collect the plastics) were horrible to me, it was always OK for the participating schoolchildren. In fact, the kids were always excited to go picking-up plastic waste (our raw material for the courses) and simply because:

  1. These areas are normal to the project participants, because they are, unfortunately, a part of their daily life.
  2. Kids are looking to have fun and to make crafts. Outdoor activities are usually more attractive than school classes. Buying children’s toys for underprivileged families is definitely not a priority.

Again: this step was not about cleaning a dirty area, but to collect the plastic waste / bags that we could reused.

Learning Through Play

• Do children care about environmental issues? Not really.
• Do underprivileged children (kids who are raised in areas littered with plastic waste and other material) care about environmental issues? Bloody even less!!!

My approach to this project was not to slap a privileged or underprivileged child’ brain with strong or desperate “Plastic Waste Are Not Good” as some people do.
Sorry, but kids just don’t give a s*** about that.

Instead, my “learning through play” method and the project’s first goal was for the children to have fun during the courses. To see them very excited in learning a new crafting skill, to become more confidant and creative when they were gaining experiences in my courses, proud of their creations, to look at them playing with their new crafts like crazy/happy kids do with their toys, and even to take ownership of them.
These elements are at kids’ scopes.

curved arrow Tab the image
Click the image curved arrow
curved arrow Tab the image
curved arrow Click the image

Environmental Issues and Awareness

My last project goal was to affect awareness about the environmental issue of plastic waste pollution to the participating children.

My method aimed to use the great excitement and beautiful new energy generated by the children throughout a course, to finally counterbalance this innocent state and to discuss about that plastic waste we had an awesome fun with.

This last step always took place with photos and videos captured during the plastic waste collect, to educative and local animations, and to a short talks about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – which is very, very close to the countries of these kids.

Here, this step was dramatically generating others faces expressions from the kids – completely the opposite than during our previous times of friendship, fun, big smiles and super energy. This contrast is one way of making an impact with children.

DIY Kites


It all started with my “I Believe We Can Fly” project!

I returned to Asia in 2014 with this project only in my hands. Creating DIY kites with these children was a perfect match, because the kite is an Asian toy; this toy was 100% relevant to the project participants and their local culture.

What about the plastic bags to create the kites? Well, they can be found everywhere.

curved arrow Tab the image
Click the image curved arrow

DIY Flowers


I started DIY flowers courses from 2016.

After many DIY kites courses, I became interested to find a second craft to work with kids. Et voilà!

For this new course/craft, my project’ method was the same: collect plastic waste (plastic bags), wash them and turn them into crafts.

curved arrow Tab the image
Click the image curved arrow
Julien Thomas making a DIY kite from plastic waste with a child

A New Journey

I’m neither a conquistador nor a school teacher. Thereby, I’ve not organized my courses to tell children what they must think or what is best for their well-being.

People, let’s underline something very basic: we know that, sometimes, when discussing with our friends or relatives, when we are trying hard to explain something to them, or explaining them another opinion, they might never agree or never really understand different concerns. Right?
Conclusion: we can say that friends or relatives are not ready to understand (even to listen, sometimes) a different opinion.

So, about me here, as a European not dealing with friends/family but with Asian and underprivileged children, knowing they and I are not from the same country but almost from a different planet, that these young fellas are children, that we don’t have the same culture at all and so forth, be done to earth: how to expect to really explain/teach/raise awareness about the plastic waste pollution and that nobody really cares in Southeast Asia? (and within a ~12 days course??)

This relevant concern is, however, the reason ‘why’ I’ve look for to focus my project with children and never with adults.
Because children love to play, children are sponges, they’re curious, innocent, amazing, they love to craft and to have fun.

My project and courses had the simple and humanist purpose to teach a friendly crafting skill to kids, mixing with a certain awareness about the environment issue of the plastic waste pollution (especially in these countries!) and to appreciate the results with the cooperating NGOs schools.
Since the younger generations copy the behavior they see around them, the goal of my project was to demonstrate an alternative environmental action through an educative, poetic and fun-filled way.

“Through play get a message across” was the everything of my project and my new journey.
People change if they want to, and as Nelson Mandela quotes: “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.”

I have done 'my bit of it'. With young generations (and besides, Asians and underprivileged children), I have done something. Something that was looking Beautiful and Great to me for a better/happier and cleaner world.

Photo Copyright

creative commons BY-NC
Creative Commons License
Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

All photos of my Courses For Children have been uploaded on the Internet with a Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC 4.0) in their metadata. So, if some wants to be used to help other people in their educational or environmental projects: It’s all good for me!

Feel free to contact me for uncompressed, watermark-free and full-size images.

My DIY Kites Courses

My DIY Flowers Courses

Questions & Answers

Because underprivileged children are happily playing with everything they have.

The first school had organized another kites-making course at school – during the celebration of a national event (Vietnam)!

Otherwise and unfortunately, no other of the 14 NGOs schools kept my courses going as far as I know.
I find this conclusion such a pity, because the kids I’ve worked with always had the skills to keep crafting after a course was done.

One conclusion of my project: for schools in such countries, English and computer lessons seems more critical than environmental activities and awareness.
Such a pity.

My last one was in late 2019 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
After many voluntary courses, fantastic results to me, and no interest from an NGO school to potentially hire me for a mid or long-term project, I moved ahead with my corporate photography.

No, I am no longer organizing courses (this incredible journey is over for me). But feel free to contact me for anything about that!

It born from a personal desire of mine and related to my previous experiences in these countries.

Sorry, but the reason behind my project is something personal.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man (…)”
That’s the only clue I will share here!