PLASTICINE and pipe-cleaners might not be obvious items to include on a shopping list for new arrivals to the UK, but they brought joy to Syrian children and their parents in Wallsend last week, as part of a project that uses puppetry as therapy.
At a workshop run by a UK charity, No Strings International (NSI), hosted at St Luke’s, Wallsend, in North Tyneside, families who had arrived in the town in May were given the opportunity to explore ideas about wellbeing through watching films and creating their own puppets.
The charity takes its workshops all over the world, and has worked in trauma healing with children affected by the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. Its films are made by the creators of the original Muppet Show. The film shown to the Syrian children — Red Top, Blue Top — explores difference and similarity. There are now plans to show Syrian parents A Magic Heart, a film that explores healing after trauma.
“Puppetry is really powerful tool, allowing children to feel comfortable, and to then express things that can be quite difficult, like emotions, and to validate them,” the programmes manager at NSI, Rosie Waller, said this week. “We got them to make stick puppets and they loved it, and mums and dads loved it. They can’t keep their hands off it. It’s the same wherever we go in the world. We’ve worked with men in Iraq men in their fifties with extraordinary backgrounds, and they are all fighting over goggly eyes. It is just a happy thing to do. And quite comforting.”
The workshop was held at the request of a charity that works with refugees and asylum seekers, Walking With in North Tyneside. It is based at St Luke’s, and was appointed by the council to lead on community support for the five Syrian families who arrived in May; their work ranges from setting up bank accounts to helping with school uniforms and everything in between.
The project manager at Walking With, Carole Perkins, said this week that they had “settled in really well”. Fifteen volunteers have been working many extra hours to ensure that the Syrians were settled in.
“On the whole, everyone has been really lovely and supportive,” she said. “Within a day of people arriving, kids were knocking on the door to say ‘Can you come out to play?’ and they were playing on the street together.”
The joy generated by the puppets was evident from photos, she said. “It’s great to see smiles on their faces after a difficult time.”