Education

This is not a typical NerdBastards article, but this is something that we wanted to tell you about: a group of former Jim Henson Company puppeteers, people behind The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock, who have come together to educate children in refugee camps through puppetry. They are No Strings International and they need a hand right now. 

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According to a report by NBC News, there are one million Syrian children living in refugee camps, displaced from their homes by a situation that may get worse before it gets better… if it ever gets better. 75% of those children are under the age of 11.

Some call them “The Lost Generation”. To borrow and contort a phrase, I can’t visualize what one million of anything looks like, but I can imagine the darkness caused by one million extinguished lights.

To save these kids from slipping away, there are certain things that they need: warmth, love, and food. These are basic things and there are living saints, aid workers, who are providing them, but they also need help coping with the shocking loss of everything that they have ever known.

Enter No Strings International, a not-for-profit organization with the ability to cut through language and cultural barriers while delivering a different kind of aid.

Comprised of puppeteers and aid workers, the people at No Strings are using puppets as a teaching tool in a way that should be familiar to anyone who grew up watching Sesame Street and similar shows. The difference is, these lessons are being taught in refugee camps all over the world and they are about land mine awareness, hygiene, HIV/AIDS, gender equality, natural disaster preparedness, and how to deal with trauma.

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Created by former Muppet Show puppeteers Kathy Mullen and Michael Frith , and Johnie McGlade, an aid worker who stumbled onto the idea while using a puppet named Seamuss at a camp in the Sudan to communicate with both children and adults, No Strings International has made 13 short films in 24 languages for 14 countries.

Here is a look at some of their campaigns.

I had a chance to talk with Rosie Waller, the Programs Manager for No Strings via email as they try to secure financing for their work in the Syrian camps. Here’s Ms. Waller on what happens after these films are completed and ready to go to refugee camps in places like Afghanistan, Haiti, and Syria.

The next step is to host workshops in that part of the world, where we invite delegates from organisations dealing directly with children and young people, either in Syria, or living as part of the refugee community, so we can share best practice ideas about how to target the films and follow them up.

Our trauma-healing film in particular is very sensitive: children can respond on a profoundly emotional level because it deals with very difficult issues like loss and grief. It’s therefore vital that facilitators showing this film have the right additional tools so that it’s ultimately a very positive experience for those children. In addition, the No Strings workshop is co-led by a small team of exceptionally talented puppeteers, who share a range of techniques that local facilitators can use to help children explore feelings together in small groups.

With our peace-building film, puppetry is a tool young people can use to challenge the film’s inherent messages, and work through new ideas. These are techniques that we’ve shared in many parts of the world, and they’re a lot of fun as well as very effective.

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As you can tell, No Strings goes above and beyond to craft these projects in a way that makes them as accessible as possible, and that extends to the look of the puppets that are used to reach the affected children. Here’s Ms. Waller on that process.

Working with a designer like Michael Frith, our puppets have a certain signature look. It’s important [that] they’re instantly appealing to children and full of character. There’s always a little whimsy to them, a charm, which draw audiences in. What’s also important is that they fully reflect the audience they’re designed for, and that they’re culturally appropriate, so we work closely with our partners in the field throughout the design stage.

To finish their latest batch of films and fully launch their program in those Syrian refugee camps, No Strings has taken to the internet and IndieGoGo.

With a little more than one day left and less than half of their $50,000 goal met, though, Ms. Waller is realistic when I ask her what will happen if they fall short of their goal.

We’re hoping to reach our IndieGoGo target, but we’ll be shooting the films whatever happens because we’re committed to them.

If you have an interest in checking out the No Strings International IndieGoGo, go here. To go to the No Strings website and read up on what they’ve done and why they do it, click here. You can also follow them on twitter.

Source: NBC News, h/t to Gerry Duggan

PhD and tenure aside, Dr. Travis Langley is incredibly easy to talk to. No doubt, his years of teaching Psychology at Henderson University (a liberal arts university in Arkansas) have taught him to be patient with overeager psych nerds, like me. It’s not just his patience that puts you at ease, it’s also own eagerness and excitement for the subject. Dr. Langley is the Batman Psychologist. This is not just a self-professed title; Besides the recent release of Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight he just wrapped up teaching a course about the psychology of Batman at Henderson. The book evaluates the inner psyche of Batman, applying different psychological theories to Batman’s intensely traumatic life. Before I launched into my questions about the book, though, I had to ask Dr. Langley about his class on Batman. Specifically, how did he convince the psychology department at Henderson to let him teach a class about Batman?!

Dr. Langley: You know how in a math class you might have an example, “This train is moving at this speed, and that train is moving at that speed…” Well, for somebody who loves trains, why not have an entire course on the math of trains? They could learn all the math more easily if it’s full of examples they appreciate. With Batman, it’s using psychology to teach Batman, and Batman to teach psychology. And it works out really well. And it’s got a mix of students, from those who know Batman really well to those who didn’t know him any better than average. But, they were the students who were interested enough to take the class. And they all reported that they got a lot out of it. They get close, too, because a bunch of these are students who…they have to be guarded in a lot of ways. You don’t go out in your other classes and just announce your nerdy interests. But in a class called Batman, there’s nothing too nerdy to talk about in there. (more…)