As a volunteer in the Health Education in Schools and Communities program, one of my duties is to run an after school club with a Moldovan partner. My partner and I decided after practice school that we would organize a puppet theater club for 6th and 7th graders. 30 students showed up for our first meeting, including boys. I announced they would be sewing the puppets themselves which resulted in cries of joy from the girls and cries of dread from the boys. Needless to say the boys stopped coming.

My partner and I were trying to think of a way to keep our students interested for a few years, so we decided that if they put a lot of work into them, they might be more inclined to stick with it. I talked to a couple who are humanitarian missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints serving in Chișinău about possible funding for such a project. Our discussion encouraged me write a mini-grant proposal which was approved. The next Saturday I went on an all-day shopping spree with them to buy materials for the puppets and a stage.

My mom made some fabulous hand puppets when I was younger that I wanted to use, so she took one apart to make a pattern and then emailed it to me. I decided to cut all the pieces myself to save some time, so we started right away with sewing.

I was talking to another volunteer about how long it was taking us to finish the puppets, and he said, “So basically it has been an art club so far.” His comments were not meant to by snide in any way, he was more empathizing with me.  I have been thinking about it though, and I think the girls have learned some valuable lessons.

  • If you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it right. There were so many times, too many to name, when the girls wanted to do something half way. We encouraged them to do it the right way, but ultimately said it was their choice. Even with the encouragement, some girls still decided to do it the easy way. In each of these cases, the girls found out several steps later and about an hour of sewing later, that they should have done it the right way initially. Each one of them had to start again from that step.
  • Creativity. Because none of the girls were given instructions about the physical appearance of their puppet, they were able to foster their own creativity. I have to admit, sometimes I completely questioned their outfit choices, but they showed complete confidence in their puppets. And I think there is something to be said about making something yourself and coming up with something that is completely one of a kind.
  • Team Work. On several occasions when one girl needed help, several would stop working on their own puppets to discuss and help if asked. They supported each other and helped when one girl was lagging a little. It was times like these that really helped create the positive atmosphere that is so conducive to creativity.
  • Even though I just said I can’t do it, I know I really can. Especially towards the last few weeks of making the puppets, we started hearing very whiny voices say expressions like, “Dar Doamna Susan, nu pot.” (“But Mrs. Susan, I can’t.”). Initially I was really annoyed by the whiny voices, but then after talking with my partner about it who agreed it was a problem, we decided to be more encouraging. And yes, encouragement is the way to go. When we finished, the girls were so happy that they made these puppets all by themselves.

These girls have come each week for an hour and a half to work on their puppets. They were not given any specific direction about how their puppet was to look or to be dressed other than the pattern instructions. They came up with some pretty creative ideas, and I am glad the puppets all look pretty unique.

My partner is pictured above with the 2 puppets I made. The girl is named Sophie (after a cute little girl I know), and Curt named the boy Dyshawn.