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Nagorny Karabakh: Children learn through puppet shows

08-06-2000 News Release 00/21

During the month of May, the ICRC's mine-awareness team in Nagorny Karabakh toured the territory's towns and villages with a puppet show designed to alert children to the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Children living in areas infested by mines and UXO usually know where these deadly weapons are lying and have been told what to do if they come across one. The idea of the show is to teach them how to react in their everyday lives. According to Laurence Desvignes, head of the mine-awareness unit at ICRC headquarters in Geneva, " the real challenge is to deliver the right message to children without arousing their curiosity to such an extent that they will go looking for mines or UXO, and without laying down prohibitions that they may be tempted to disobey " .

All over the world, puppets appeal to children and have proved quite effective in conveying serious messages to young audiences. " Rather than imposing rules, the actors and puppets have succeeded in focusing the children's attention on the risks involved " , added Laurence Desvignes. Indeed, the audiences are quickly drawn into the play and take an active part, identifying with the scenario and absorbing essential information while having fun. As they shout out to the characters what not to do and how to behave, they are actually demonstrating that they are learning.

The performances, organized by the ICRC with the cooperation of the Nagorny Karabakh Ministry of Education, have been attended by over 7,200 children and some 700 teachers in the region. Follow-up activities include discussions with teachers on the information that needs to be given to pupils and how this should be done. Furthermore, 75 teachers have been selected for training in carrying out mine-awareness programmes in schools.

One thing is clear: a sustained effort is needed to maintain a high level of awareness among children of the dangers of mines and UXO. Together with farmers, children are among the groups most at risk in affected areas – and what better way is there of learning than to watch a puppet show?