“Soluf, you need to pay more attention when you’re watching films that can save your life!”
It’s amazing how the children in this class of 50 have come to life. Sure, watching the Cyclone film earlier with other young teenagers from different classes they laughed out loud on numerous occasions, real belly laughs. But return to their class with a new set of teachers and there is silence, uncertainty. Until Soluf appears and it’s time to scold him.
Soluf is a big mouth puppet animated by a pair of facilitators who are halfway through their No Strings training on the school visit that’s a key aspect of all our workshops. He’s not really understood the film at all, and children are being asked to explain what’s gone on.
It’s a way for facilitators to monitor how well a class has absorbed key messages and what gaps in awareness are prevalent. Plus, Soluf is an amazing ice breaker. He’s small, so groups respond naturally to him as a sort of funny child who needs their help. They may feel shy, but they want to assist him. Soluf might indeed be shy himself or give kisses and the local equivalent of high fives, whichever way his facilitator operator chooses to make the magic come alive.
We’re in Toamasina, Madagascar’s major port city in the east which, like so much of this coastline and that of the south west, is no stranger to terrifying cyclones and floods. It’s November 2014, towards the start of the main cyclone season.
A really interesting aspect of this week-long workshop, and the one we do next in Tolaria in the south, is that many participants work mostly with community members rather than children specifically. There are a few school teachers and we have Scouts, or Scoots as they’re known here, but even that movement covers young people up to the age of around 25.
Will the community-based organisations use puppetry with adults? Our participants pause for a moment. “Well, we’ve been using it all week ourselves and we’ve learnt a lot!” someone volunteers.
Puppetry sounds such a far-from-normal thing to do, and yet it comes so naturally to people. Charming and funny, we all seem remarkably quick to leave our comfort zones and take puppets to heart.
Of course, there’s more to it than just having fun. Soluf’s ice-breaking visit is brief and there’s work to be done, village models to be made so communities can identify vulnerabilities and how to reduce them, maps to create and evacuation routes to plot, and sketches to bring to life with fabulous home-made stick puppets that really test and problemise a particular key message.
We know from experience in many parts of the world that such activities allow both children and adults to be truly engaged in their learning and make crucial connections and decisions for themselves. For Madagascar, we believe this high level of participation is vital if the people our local partners serve are to be better prepared for dangerous cyclones and floods, safer during these emergencies, and able to recover more quickly.
CRS, Catholic Relief Service, our lead partner in Madagascar, will be visiting staff in the Toamasina region before Easter to see how rollout is progressing, and we’ll report back on those adults. Soluf! Let’s hope you’re doing your job properly.