Using Puppetry to Increase Participation in Handwashing Communication Initiatives

Organisation: No Strings International

Partners: Northumbria University; Catholic Relief Services

Location: Juba, South Sudan; Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Type of grant: Core – development

Status: Ongoing

  • 7. NSI director Johnie McGlade and puppet talks handwashing with young boys, South Sudan scoping visit 2015 (cr. No Strings International)

  • 7. Shadow theatre scene: village story created by health promoters, February 2017 workshop, Juba (cr. No Strings International)

  • 6. Mr Poop, a simple sock puppet with a disgusting personality (cr. No Strings International)

  • 5. Girls talk. Sensitive discussion issues like open defecation come alive while making Mr Poop, February 2017 workshop, Juba (cr. No Strings International)

  • 4. Lulu meets Mr Soap and Clean Water. Scene-building practice with health promoters, February 2017 workshop, Juba (cr. No Strings International)

  • 3. Little girl with puppet in a child friendly space in Mingkaman IDP camp, South Sudan (cr. No Strings International)

  • 2. Juba, South Sudan. Lulu seems to get everything muddled! He needs help understanding what the film actually said (cr. No Strings International)

  • 1. Scene from the No Strings International film Time to Wash, dubbed into several local languages (cr. Richard Termine)


No Strings International is developing a puppetry-based storytelling project around handwashing with soap, through a broadcast-quality puppet film introducing key messages and a range of innovative, hands-on techniques that encourage meaningful community engagement for lasting behaviour change.

What is the humanitarian need?

Handwashing with soap protects countless lives, but in emergencies, where the risk of infectious disease is heightened, urgent messaging campaigns can quickly lose impact. With a large proportion of displaced communities under the age of 18, hygiene promotion activities need to include children and teenagers, along with mothers of younger children, as primary targets. One-way communication tools produce questionable long-term behaviour change results. Our approach raises awareness through a specially-made puppet film, but it also requires that community groups themselves make meaningful connections through collaborative storytelling activities using age-appropriate puppetry techniques that attract people’s active engagement.

What is the innovative solution?

No Strings works with some of the leading creators of the original Muppet Show to make culturally-sensitive films that are central to our behaviour change programmes. Our new film, Time to Wash, equips local health promoters with a fun tool that attracts the attention of target groups around issues linked to handwashing with soap. It includes a catchy song and has been dubbed into several local languages. The second part of our innovation is a range of playful, storytelling tools that stimulate genuine participation, so that target group members interpret messages together using engaging puppetry techniques like shadow theatre, models, or making Mr Poop sock and Germ puppets. Puppetry allows for the abstraction of sensitive or taboo issues, and therefore for problems, barriers and solutions to be identified and discussed more openly. The approach furthermore gives affected communities a voice that can feed into facility provision and maintenance.

What are the expected outcomes?

Working in partnership with Northumbria University and CRS, No Strings International will evaluate the processes involved in reaching target groups effectively in order to understand which parts of the innovation work best, how different target age groups respond, conditions and resources that allow health promoters and community volunteers to contribute most effectively, and identify key challenges. Supporting this process assessment, we will define a strategy and conduct an impact assessment. Taking these findings into account, a professional film crew will work in country to create a video manual to support the ongoing training of community volunteers in the target region, and which can furthermore be used to take the project to scale in additional humanitarian settings in the region. The expected outcome is thus a fully-packaged tool to support behaviour change programmes around handwashing with soap within a wider infectious disease risk management framework.


Elrha is hosted by Save the Children, a registered charity in England and Wales (213890) and Scotland (SC039570).

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