For children of pre-school and primary school age, the medium of puppet theatre is particularly suitable for facilitating socio-emotional learning in a child-friendly and entertaining way. With the support of the Bavarian State Parliament (Bayerischer Landtag) and the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the Tutu Foundation has developed a puppet show that teaches children aged 4 to 8 the values and principles of Archbishop Tutu. The puppet show, named Desmond's World, marks the beginning of the Foundation's Early Childhood Development programme, lovingly known as Tutu Tots. Tutu Tots is a free education programme that speaks to the difficult living conditions of many children in Cape Town and surrounding areas.
South Africa is still a country of great inequality, violence and trauma. Children need to be taught values such as empathy, willingness to compromise, self-esteem and how to resolve conflicts peacefully and fairly. Despite the immense need, there are still far too few educational programmes and materials for children (4 to 8 years old). The South African curriculum for kindergartens and the first grades of primary school (up to Grade 3) provides only little for civic education. The long-term goal of the Tutu Children's Programme is therefore to fill this gap and to contribute to a peaceful and democratic society.
The idea of puppet theatre would certainly have appealed to the popular Archbishop. Tutu believed in using stories and characters to address difficult emotional issues and to find solutions. People around the world know him best for his activism, but Tutu also wrote several children's books to encourage and inspire young people.
One of these books, “Desmond and the Very Mean Word”, was the inspiration for the puppet show. The content for the show was developed by the Tutu Foundation together with the renowned Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation. In “Desmond and the Very Mean Word”, the Archbishop tells the story of how he was bullied as a young boy and how, with the help of a trusted adult, Father Trevor Huddleston, he dealt with it and learned valuable life lessons.
As the Foundation’s Operations Manager Phumi Nhlapo said at the opening of the Tutu Puppet Theatre: "The Archbishop would have smiled if he had known what was happening here today!” The funding of the Tutu Puppet Theatre complements another HSF project that aims at developing leadership skills of South African young people (15+), which is also being implemented with the Tutu Foundation. The project is part of the agreed focus areas of good governance, violence prevention and civic education between the two partner provinces of the Western Cape and Bavaria.
Already during the pilot phase in September and October this year, when the puppet theatre was introduced to children from several local nurseries, the feedback was very positive and heart-warming: many of the young participants had never been to a puppet show before and were thrilled.
The official opening of the theatre on 9 November was attended by German Consul General Tanja Werheit, representatives of the Mitchells Plain Educare Forum, the University of the Western Cape and the Two Ocean's Aquarium Foundation, as well as educators from the Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Trust and 13 children aged four to five from Cape Town's Mitchells Plain crime hotspot area.
After a short reading of Tutu's story "God's Dream", the official premiere of the puppet show took place. By interacting with the characters, the children became emotionally involved in the story. At the end of the show, the "moral of the story" was repeated as a rhyme by adults and children alike, and clearly enjoyed by all.
During the adult part of the event, Janet Jobson, Director of the Tutu Foundation, explained her team's plans for the Tutu Children's Programme and the importance of Early Childhood Education for democracy and positive social development in South Africa.
"Our aim is to share Archbishop Tutu's legacy with young children by emphasizing the virtues of humanity and connectedness (ubuntu), courage, compassion and forgiveness that the Archbishop embodied throughout his life," said Ms Jobson, who thanked the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Bavarian Parliament for their support. "There is no better way for young children to learn important social and emotional skills for dealing with difficult situations such as bullying than through the medium of puppetry!”
Hanns Bühler, Regional Representative of the Hanns Seidel Foundation for Southern Africa, said: "Too many children grow up in a difficult environment of hardship and violence. "Desmond's World is a safe and entertaining place for children. Through this wonderful puppet show, they learn important values that will make them responsible citizens. Tutu's targeted children's education programme supports positive socialization and ultimately promotes cohesion in South Africa's democratic society.”
The premiere of the puppet show was filmed by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and a two-minute news clip was broadcast. In addition, several independent online media covered the launch event and the Tutu Foundation's new children's programme.
Kindergartens and primary schools from all over Cape Town are now invited to bring their pre-school and primary school children on this learning adventure. Transport and a child-friendly snack will be provided. Bookings can be made by emailing email@example.com.