Upcycle Courses for Children

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

Julien Thomas

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

In 2014, I started a personal project focusing on to teach underprivileged schoolchildren in Vietnam and Cambodia, how to upcycle plastic waste into kids crafts (kites).

Aims of the project:

  1. Share a “know how” with young generations.
  2. Give a second life to plastic waste / plastic bags.
  3. Talk about the issue of plastic waste pollution.

These upcycling courses for children are in no way related to a compagny project, or the project of an association, or even a religious denomination. It’s only my call.

This project is all about a personal project with only one guy (me) on the ground; a sort of solidarity and humanist project involving recycling and education – some fun-filled ecological classes for children.

NGOs Schools

My courses are voluntarily organized in cooperation with NGOs schools caring for disadvantaged school children.

I’ve organized 15 courses between Vietnam and Cambodia since the beguining of my project, 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.

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Plastic Bags / Plastic Waste

The founding principle of the project is obviously not in buying/using brand new plastic bags to raise children’s awareness of the plastic waste pollution.

The first step of the project is to collect discarded plastic bags that we can upcycle.
Even if most of the areas, even local landfills (where we collect the plastics) are horrible to me, it was always OK for the participating children. In fact, the kids were always excited to go picking-up discarded plastic bags, and very 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 is not about cleaning a dirty area, but to collect the plastic waste / plastic bags that we can reuse.

Learning Through Play

● Do children care about environmental issues? Not really.

● Do disadvantaged children (who are raised in areas littered with plastic waste and other waste) care about environmental issues? Even less!

My method is not to slap a privilaged or underprivilaged child’ brain with strong or desperate “Plastics Waste Are Not Good” as most speakers or teachers may do. Sorry, but all the children don’t give a damn about that.

Instead, my learning through play method and my project’s first is for the children to have fun during the classes. Naturally, to find the kids happy in learning a new crafting skill, becoming creative, proud of their creations, to look at them playing with their new DIY crafts like crazy-happy kids do with their toys, and even to take ownership of them. These elements are at kids’ scopes.

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Environmental Issues and Awareness

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

My method uses the kids’ excitement and great new energy of happiness and success generated throughout a course, to finally counterbalance that innocent (and beautiful) state, to discuss about that plastic waste we had some great fun with.

This final step takes place with photos and videos captured during the plastic waste collect, steady classes, to local and educative animations, and to short discussions about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is very, very close to the countries of these kids.

Here, this step is dramatically generating others faces expressions from the kids – completely the opposite than during our previous super times of complicity, friendshi, fun and great energy. This contrast is one way of making an impact.

A New Journey

I had the idea for this project during my third trip in Asia.
My previous trips here were about many things, and also about sharing some things with the people and the kids I was encountering and spending fantastic times with every day. Most travelers are familiar with this state of ‘sharing’ with natives we encounter on our big trips.

So this new journey was kinda the same as my previous ones: another solo and motorbike trip in these countries, but now while organizing some upcycling courses along the way! A new journey, with the simple purpose of sharing a personal and poetic feeling (my feeling) on how to generate some fantastic fun and pollution awareness from free of charge plastic waste collecting.

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DIY Kites

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It all started with my ‘I Believe We Can Fly’ project in 2014.

The project key was that a kite is an Asian toy, so here the children are very familiar with this toy. Also the project didn’t require advanced skills or modern technology. Overall, ‘a kite’ was 100% relevant to the project participants and their local culture.

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

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DIY Flowers

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I started DIY flowers courses in 2016.

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

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

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I’m neither some kind of arrogant conquistador nor a school teacher. Thereby and also, I’m not organizing my courses to tell the children what they must think or what is best for their well-being.

Let’s look at a basic fact: must of us know that, sometimes, when we’re discussing with our relatives or best friends, when we’re really trying to explain something to them, or explaining them another opinion, they might never agree or never really understand different concerns. Right?
We can say that ‘friends or relatives’ are not ready to understand (even to listen, sometimes) a different opinion...

So here as a European and organizer of courses for Asian and underprivileged children, knowing that they and I are not from the same country but from a different planet, that these little guys 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 in just a ~12day course??)

This relevant concern is, however, the reason ‘why’ I look for to work with children and not with adults.
Because children love to play, children are sponges, they’re curious, innocent, amazing, they love to craft and have fun.

My project and courses have 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, my goal 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 courses for children, and to my new journey.
People change if they want to, and as Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.”

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

Julien Thomas

Photo Copyright

The photos of my courses for children has been uploaded and indexeed online with the CC BY-NC 4.0 Creative Commons License to their metadata. So if some photos can be used to inspire some people in their educational and environmental projects: go for it!

Check out my bellow photo gallery and contact me for uncompressed, watermark-free, full-size images.

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

Photo Gallery

Questions & Answers

Because underprivileged children are happy to play with everything.

The first school had organized another kites-making course with their schoolchildren (for a national event celebrated at school – Vietnam)!

Unfortunately no other of the 14 NGOs schools kept my courses going as far as I know.

I find this reality such a pity, and since the participating children always had the skills to keep crafting after I was done.

One conclusion of my courses and personal project: In such countries.. English and computer lessons seems more essentials for schools than environmental activities and awareness. Such a pity.

My last course was in late 2019 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

After many voluntary classes, great results for me, and no interest out of nowhere in giving me a job to work on a long-term project with the kids.. I moved ahead into hospitality and corporate photography.

However, I’m always up to another course with children or some feedback! Contact me if needed.