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This is how puppets are promoting social change in Kenya


By Benedetta Sala

Puppetry, along with other forms of folk art, such as dance, storytelling and masked performances, continues to be a popular form of communication. Even in an era of globalisation, puppetry represents the function of transmitting cultural and social values in villages throughout rural Africa.

Today, in rapidly evolving urban areas, puppetry is assuming different connotations and functions. The Kenya Institute of Puppet Theatre (KIPT) is a non-profit community-based theatre institute which trains and promotes puppetry as a practice to promote health, socio-economic advancement, good governance, and environmental conservation in local communities. It is based in the Mukuru slums of Nairobi, one of the largest informal settlements of Kenya’s capital.

KIPT is the first informal institution in Africa that focuses on puppetry as a medium for social change. The creative people working for KIPT use puppetry and folk media to teach life skills and empower disadvantaged people within their community. KIPT’s mission is to empower people and foster community development by raising awareness of governance issues, creating a forum that enables Kenyans to discuss issues and their rights, and stimulate public participation to identify solutions governance problems in Kenya.

The founding philosophy behind the activities of KIPT is that theatre and puppetry arts inspire community development: it’s a medium of communication that effectively teaches social values through a form of expression that is embedded in the local community. The method bridges the gap between folk media, community empowerment and local development.

The first series of activities were launched in 1994 and the programme has since worked on advocacy projects relating to various aspects of good governance, including anti-corruption awareness advocacy, environmental conservation, gender issues, as well as human rights and gender rights.

Recently, KIPT performed Puppets against Corruption in Kenya, a skit that used animal puppets to portray the phenomenon and consequences of corruption. The performance was part of a series of that sought to raise awareness and stimulate action in the local community against corruption.

Through these interactive performances, the community puppeteers advocate for transparency, integrity and responsible governance. The project has not only successfully raised awareness of common issues that affect many communities in Kenya, and in other developing countries, but has increased public awareness on electoral education and human rights.

The projects and performances provide young Kenyans with fantastic knowledge, skills and opportunities, such as community organising and mobilisation, advanced training in puppetry and participatory educational theatre and training on integrity, leadership and good governance.

The Kenya Institute of Puppet Theatre is more than just about puppets, it’s an institution that has merged arts, community empowerment and promotes sustainable development. Puppeteers and puppets are instruments that foster greater transparency, gender equality and education standards. Initiatives like KIPT are bringing our society one step closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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