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Like many children in Kawangware, a sprawling informal settlement area of Nairobi, Kenya, Peter has spent his whole young life dreaming of making it big as a footballer, but unlike most, he has an incredible opportunity. If he’s able to score two goals in a local football championship, Peter gets to play for Real Madrid.

Children's storyboard of Peter's Football Dream

This was the start of the shadow puppet story a group of children at HGM Primary made up. Their aim was to bring to life one of the main barriers to washing hands with soap that they had identified: ignorance. Not ignorance as in not knowing, but not believing. And a lot of boys at their school, they say, older ones especially, think hand washing is for girls.

The day before the big match, Peter is practicing with his friend when the ball falls in a pile of poop where someone has ‘helped themselves’, as they say in Nairobi. The bell goes and the boys need to rush to class. Peter is hungry, but as he goes to eat his cake, his friend stops him. “You touched the ball after it fell into that poop,” he says. “You can’t eat your cake without washing your hands.”
Peter is strong, however, a sporting star. He’s stronger than a load of tiny germs, and in any case, he wiped the ball on the grass. “Look at me,” he exclaims. “You and your hand-washing stories.”

The day of the big match

The next day, a crowd of friends gather to cheer him on for the big match. Peter scores! “We want another one, just like the other one!!” they chant. But something terrible happens. Peter collapses onto the pitch. We see him vomiting, and his stomach hurts badly. Peter’s dreams are shattered and the story ends.

The group performing the shadow puppets from behind their make-shift screen come to the front. “How does this story make you feel?” they ask their peers. “Could something like this happen to you?” “How could you prevent it?”

Some of the cast and crew!

In another school, Satellite Primary, about a mile along the road, a group bring to life the practice of drinking dirty water, a common occurrence here as the school of more than 1,600 children has been without running water for eight years. We see Michael, who collects water from the car wash situated near the school gates, and where the run-off trickles into a ditch full of filthy stagnant water. “It tastes salty,” one of the group was brave enough to admit after the performance. Each time the water is used for cleaning the classroom floor, the room stinks of sewage, teachers say. Water trucked into the school has to be prioritised for this, and for cooking.

When children list the barriers to healthy WASH behaviours before selecting one for their stories, the paper quickly fills. Ignorance is mentioned at all five schools, as is time – getting into trouble for being late to class, lack of soap, lack of facilities, lack of good role models at home where soap might be a costly commodity saved for laundry and ‘wasted’ on hand washing.

Watching them in their small groups as they create their storyboards is a lovely experience. They huddle together and talk heatedly, almost conspiratorially. They don’t even know they’re learning, but together, they’ve become the owners of their messages.

It then comes to making the puppets and scenery. Some are clearly good at drawing but cutting out is a challenge – the schools had no scissors before No Strings, and there are no art or craft lessons at all: very big class sizes have forced teachers to focus exclusively on examinable subjects. They fix the puppets to sticks and rehearse. It’s a team effort. Behind the screen where no-one can see you it’s easier to speak out if your shy.
What’s funny is that while some of their teachers had struggled with the concept during the No Strings workshop, for children, it’s like they’ve been doing it all their lives.

We were lucky enough to get to film Peter’s Football Dream:

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