Sri Lanka

Taking puppets across the water from Sri Lanka to Haiti

Sri Lanka schoolchildren learn the art of puppetmaking

Back in 2005 when I was in Sri Lanka post the tsunami, I came across a chap called Stefan Birckmann who’d come up with a genius idea.

Stefan was staying in Ambalangoda, a town on the west coast that is home to Sri Lanka’s ancient artform of puppet making. Prior to the tsunami, the puppet makers had largely been dying out as craftsmen.

With locals more interested in Westernised forms of entertainment like TV, cinema and the internet, puppet makers were making a living just from selling their wares to tourists.

The tsunami brought further devastation to these people, wiping out their workshops as well as their homes – at least until Stefan came along.

He had the idea of getting sponsorship for the pupeteers, getting them to create new puppets and taking a show around schools and refugee camps.

With no other entertainment and no electricity, puppets came back into fashion and puppet making classes were held in some of the schools with the children encouraged to tell their tsunami stories via the puppets, so offering a form of therapy to boot. One girl said: ‘I can talk about it now, because it’s the puppet talking and not me.’

Stefan ended up taking the show around the country, moving on to refugee camps housing people left homeless on the east coast as a result of the final push in the civil war between the government and Tamil separatists.

Stefan’s now come up with the idea of taking the puppet show to Haiti. As he says: ‘It would be a gesture between cultures of islands and about showing solidarity with victims of a natural disaster. Because of the experience of five years ago, the Sri Lankans are able to understand the experience and are able to share the needs in grief and trauma.’

He’s planning to take five puppeteers and musicians from Sri Lanka to Haiti and get local artists like painters and carvers to help out with the show and sets.

What he is looking for is some kind of sponsorship money to help him achieve it. I can vouch for Stefan, he’s a kosher bloke and a good pal. If you can help him out, please do so by getting in touch with him by clicking here.