Feb 2017: Programmes Manager Rosie Waller reports from the second day of a week-long workshop in South Sudan
“You don’t have a tribe?” asks Viola over lunch. She’s a Juba-based social worker supporting some of the poorest families in the city. Her tone and expression make us feel lacking.
Her colleague, Lily, normally full of smiles, tells us her husband died a year ago. “I’ve been unfortunate,” she says. “But I have three children and I love them so much. I love them beyond words.”
Lily’s oldest girl is at school in Uganda with relatives. She misses her but after the fighting in Juba in July 2016 when many women and girls were raped, Lily knows she’s safer there. Lily’s sister has also died in the last couple of years, leaving her with two additional young ones to raise in what is currently the country with the highest inflation rate in the world.
With different tribes speaking around 60 dialects, South Sudan is also one of the more ethnically diverse countries on the continent, a fact inevitably reflected among our workshop participants. They’re interested in how their hand puppet might simultaneously help their work with conflict-affected communities who’ve suffered trauma.
Everyone gets a Lulu, the puppets our workshop colleague Lisa (who’s here with fellow puppeteer Ceili Clemens) has made. Lulu (a male, interestingly) is the name participants choose for him – he’s called something different everywhere we work. This is certainly the first Lulu we’ve had.
Lisa Buckley and her husband Bob Fappiano were the co-creators of the 80s puppet soap Alf, and she’s worked for decades on productions like Sesame Street and Lazy Town, as well as all the No Strings films – she’s been part of pretty much every workshop No Strings has ever run.
The trick is to have Lulu’s eyes focus on the real person’s eyes he’s talking to. Get that right and the illusion starts to work: Lulu is alive! Your thumb is the bit that makes his mouth move when he talks – not the top of your hand or his eyes will bounce around, looking at the ceiling.
It’s Lulu’s job to encourage children to talk about what they’ve learnt from watching one of our No Strings films. He’s a little bit muddled and he needs their help.
But on Thursday, when we do our big school visit, even Kadiman, 25, 6ft 6ins, a health promoter and the joker of the group, struggles to get the incredibly shy children here to open up.
“What’s all this handwashing business?” Lulu asks, and the older ones (they’re 14 or 15) mumble a few words before putting their heads on the desk in front of them. It’s heart-wrenching!
Eventually, Kadiman’s huge efforts melts them and they start to take part.
But then a little bit of magic happens as some ultra-cool 16-year-old boys turn up to a different class we’re working with, and take the puppet over. The shyness vanishes from children’s faces and they all want to talk to Lulu. They’re scrabbling over each other to talk to him.
The boys get the ruse immediately – Lulu hasn’t understood our film at all and says some pretty silly things about soap being bad for you and so forth. It works beautifully: children correct him and open up more and more about the film’s key messages.
What’s fascinating for us is that it’ll be kids just like these 16-year-olds who our participants will train to work with children once they leave our workshop, they, and volunteers from mothers groups in the community.
The most exciting thing of all will be finding out how it goes, what they do. If it works! We’ve never wanted anything more.