Milk Bag Magic

 |  April 29, 2013

Every afternoon for six months, I heard the same thing from twenty four tiny faces punctuated with shiny black eyes, whining in unison: “Teachuuuuur.” It was like a mantra, delivered in a way that only Prathom Four ¬†students can really get away with – dorable and, as a result, terribly, terribly manipulative. “Teacher…gin nom?”

Milk. They wanted to drink milk during class, just like they did every afternoon out of the green, white and blue plastic milk bags provided through the school to the younger students. When I said yes (I, the easily manipulated teacher, always said yes), they would run out of the room, grab buckets full of milk pouches, and have them distributed and destroyed at a rate that was truly dizzying. And after they were done, instead of throwing the drained pouches in the trash bin or leaving them for Teacher Melissa to deal with, my kids would carefully smooth them out and pile them in the front of the room. For months this confused me. Why were my kids, the same kids currently leaving milky fingerprints on all of my earthly possessions, suddenly so concerned with cleanliness? What could possibly be going on?

Well, after our recent school fundraiser, I’m no longer confused. Just impressed. Very impressed. And maybe a little intimidated. At a central booth, under a canopy crowded with display tables, sat my students – Prathom Four, Five, and Six – surrounded by a collection of couture fashion pieces that would put some Project Runway contestants to shame. Winged hats, frilled umbrellas, heart-shaped pillows. Flowered slippers, necklaces, bags, carnations, roses. Whole outfits, complete with tiered skirts and vest tops. All of it made from nothing but plasticised, recycled milk pouches. Turns out, these kids have been very, very busy outside of English class.

As the resident clueless farang, I approached the tables ready to praise, congratulate and, most of all, buy.  How better to support the school and score a pair of awesome plastic slippers at the same time, right? Wrong. When I asked if the kids were selling the piles of carnations that they were churning out, both students and teachers alike seemed confused. Prapai Wongwichai, an English teacher at Choom Chon Ban Fon Wittaya School in Lampang, where all of the milk bag magic takes place, explained that the projects are just for fun, a creative activity that engages both the students and the community. The kids learn how to construct their favourite milk pouch crafts from teachers, enlist supportive parents to help with sewing machines, and then share their designs with the village through photo shoots, performances and events at school.

My two most outgoing students, Prathom Six twins Khao Too and Khao Tang, spent a good chunk of the fundraiser dressed head-to-toe in blue, green and white milk pouches, hamming it up for Lampang area officials and parents alike.

“Do you like making these things?” I asked them as they organised piles of plastic cuttings. “Is it fun?”

I was answered with a dramatically presented rose, and a look that very clearly said, “Duh.”