Puppets for a Purpose Creativity Sparks Conversation

Photo by Jessica Hodder '14 | A fabulous array of sock puppets from Hodder’s project

Photo by Jessica Hodder ’14 | A fabulous array of sock puppets from Hodder’s project


Jessica Hodder ’14
Contributing Writer

Kakamega Township Secondary School is located in Kakamega, Kenya. Sponsored by the Salvation Army, it was established in 2005 to help satisfy the area’s educational needs. Today, it educates a total of 385 students each year.

This past June, I conducted a puppetry project at the school entitled “Puppets for a Purpose,” using puppet theatre as a tool for community cohesion and education. During the course of two weeks, 60 secondary students worked in groups to create six skits, each of which addressed a different communal issue. The students chose to tackle the issues of drug addiction, theft, teenage pregnancy, conflict over land and peer pressure. Throughout the rehearsal process, the students were asked to think over their particular issues and debate how best to present them to the community. As the students strove to make their skits both relatable and realistic, this process not only helped to refine their performance and public speaking skills, but also built upon their knowledge of English and teamwork abilities and encouraged them to closely analyze the pertinent issues they face each and every day.

Using 20 sock puppets and a wooden puppet stage built by inmates of the local prison, the students took to the stage on June 21st. The audience of more than 200, including 50 eager primary school children, awaited the beginning of the performance. The young children were simply enthralled by the talking puppets, and the skits were punctuated with moments of enthusiastic laughter, loud booing and suspenseful silence. A brief lecture followed each puppet skit, educating the community about how to deal with situations relating to the topic in question. The faculty and staff of the school were intrigued, the community members reflective and younger students fully engaged.

It was clear from the responses following the performance that puppetry struck a chord with the audience. A number of students from the school expressed a desire to put on more puppet shows in the future that would specifically address HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases within the area. Ellie Oyogi, one of the student puppeteers, said, “Puppetry has helped us to cope with various life situations. For example, we have now learned from the puppet show how to deal with the issue of conflict over land in our community.” Samuel Kaduki, another student puppeteer, commented, “This is the best method that we can use to teach people in our community about issues that are affecting us.”

Faculty and staff also expressed their support of the project. “In the rural areas, we normally spread awareness of community issues through traditional teaching. But when you teach with an illustration, with an item, with a model like a puppet, the issues are well-communicated,” said George Busolo, the math and chemistry teacher at Kakamega Township. “I believe and trust that we, being the first institution within the Western Kenya region to use puppetry, will be able to educate more students to use the puppets to communicate all of the ideas that they have concerning our communities.”

The project also received enormous encouragement from the principal of Kakamega Township, Frederick Jacob Tali. “Theatre, and indeed puppetry, is something that is new in Western Kenya, and it is the newness and the uniqueness that makes the students interested to listen and learn,” he said. “Puppetry is successful because it combines learning with fun, and it makes students more active and participatory in the learning process. It also promotes peer teaching, because the students share with each other as they perfect their skills. I’m sure that if we continue to refine our skills using the new stage and puppets, other schools will learn and the trend will spread.”

I hope that puppetry will inspire those in rural areas to breathe life to their stories and, in the process, create effective spaces for learning. By playing upon Africa’s deeply rooted appreciation of stories and storytelling, this performance project proved successful in first appealing to community members and then addressing pertinent societal concerns. I am looking forward to seeing how Kakamega Township Secondary School utilizes the stage and puppets in the future.

Jessica Hodder, who will graduate with a degree in theatre and anthropology this spring, was also featured in an article on Caring Magazine’s website. Read more about her project and how it began by searching http://www.caringmagazine.org/practice-by-puppetry/


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