How Puppets Help Young Kenyans Find Courage to Speak Up

Share the Story

Puppetry is an efficient, cost effective and fun way to communicate important messages to a large group of audience. Due to its fantasy-based approach, it has the advantage of being able to deliver a message without appearing judgmental.

Performing using Euro – Puppets

Performing using Euro – Puppets

This idea of using creative methods or performances that in effect leads to a lighthearted and open platform allows some of the more serious topics it be brought to light. The ideas can also be conveyed to a wider pool of audience, ranging from the young to the old, and can overcome language barriers.

The Kenya Institute of Puppet Theatre (KIPT), the only organisation of it is type in East and Central Africa, creates puppetry projects that aims to empower and educate the wider communities.

Giant puppets constructed by persons affected by leprosy in Bauchi State – Nigeria

Giant puppets constructed by persons affected by leprosy in Bauchi State – Nigeria

Meet the Founder

The founder and artistic director of KIPT is Phylemon Odhiambo Okoth, a professional puppeteer and a qualified community education specialist. Phylemon has nineteen years of experience in puppetry and folk media for social change in addition to a range of creative projects specifically focused on education and social progression. Her work with KIPT involves the training of community development leaders, puppeteers, and many other types of people in techniques for performance and puppetry, inside and out of schools.

Phylemon started off as a folk media artist in secondary school and was also a youth promoter. During her journey whilst searching for more innovative and creative ways to address and communicate youth social problems, Phylemon had come across puppetry and discovered it to be a really effective tool.

After running a folk media in a school program, Phylemon received the opportunity to further study puppetry by attending a course run by the AREPP (African Education Puppetry Program). This involves studying for two weeks in Nairobi in 1994.

Performance using Glove Puppet in Kibera Slums - Nairobi

Performance using Glove Puppet in Kibera Slums – Nairobi

By 1998, she had trained 500 Kenyans to become proper puppeteers. Currently, KIPT employs 10 fully trained puppeteers who are all dedicated in raising awareness in current social issues through the use of performances. Some of the larger or more diverse projects also involve the work of students or volunteers.

What is Puppetry

Puppetry, like any other genre of theatre, is a mimetic art, mirroring reality and enabling us to see things from a different perspective. It has the advantage of non-threatening realism, impact and cost-effectiveness. Any object can be given this gift of life by the puppeteer. A puppet is given the gift of speech and action by the puppeteer but at the same time is one step removed from the real world which removes the threat which a live actor may convey.

By using puppets to portray situations that are relevant to issues that local young people face, we are able to provide them with the necessary information and education that help them make better decisions. We bring issues out into the open, making it easier to confront and explore them, enabling people to feel more comfortable in talking about them openly.

String Puppets (Marionnette)

String Puppets (Marionnette)

In addition to being more cost effective than hiring many different actors, puppetry has many advantages over other art forms as puppets can say more than live actors without offending or upsetting the audience. It is more acceptable to be light hearted about serious issues with puppets that can remove barriers such as race and gender as it often involves fun and entertainment. This is especially true when dealing with taboo issues or sensitive issues such as family planning, sexually transmitted disease etc, when a graphic puppet performance is less embarrassing than to the audience than a human act.

What’s Next

Having just completed a performance in Nairobi for the International Conference for slavery in Africa, KIPT has new and exciting projects planned for the future. They include ‘Puppet Against Beading’, aimed at educating people about beading and how it should not be practised. “Beading,” is a community-sanctioned, non-marital sexual relationship between men in the “warrior” age group, and young girls who are not yet eligible to be married.

Another performance planned is called ‘Jukumu Letu (Our Responsibility)’, one that will help increase awareness and involvement within the political system. Finally, there is ‘The Last Jumbo’ project that focuses on preventing the extinction of elephants.

The Last Man Standing Performance in Jarkata

The Last Man Standing Performance in Jarkata

All in all, KIPT hopes to continue to grow and help Africa create further opportunities to develop training within the professional puppetry sector, along with improving top quality education through entertaining performances.

Euro –Puppets in Action

Euro – Puppets in Action