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Building Community Preparedness through Puppetry

IDEP, an NGO in Indonesia, set up and led by Re-Alliance member Petra Schneider, developed comic books, puppetry and films to raise awareness of the early signs of disaster and ways of responding to these. Working with an international theatre company they made films of different disaster scenarios and used them in schools and community meetings. Local people were taught to use the puppets to play out community dialogues, discussing how people might prepare themselves for these. As a result of this work, a large number of casualties have been avoided.


Teaching children about disasters and disaster preparedness can be challenging – and involves capturing their attention without alarming them unnecessarily. After a series of natural disasters within a short period, IDEP developed comic books, games and short films to alert children to early warning signs and explain how they should best react.

The children quickly spread these messages among their families and communities. A partnership between Trocaire, JRS, No Strings, Cordaid and IDEP, worked together to develop a series of short films on Flood, Volcanic Eruption, Earthquakes, Tsunami’s and Social Harmony. The films took care to develop characters and scenery that reflected local cultural and environmental contexts and generally included a heroine, often a child with a local name who helped warn or save the community.

Facilitators were trained in how to use puppets to stimulate discussion and reinforce the messages shared in the films often using games, songs and puzzles and working with children and adult groups.


The whole-system thinking of regenerative design includes pre-disaster as a space for intervention. Humanitarian response becomes pro-active and is a more effective use of resources than only intervening after disasters occur. Building up capacity within communities to respond to disaster before it hits reduces reliance on outside intervention, which can often be slow to reach remote areas when the need is greatest.  Communities can respond effectively to disasters using local resources and knowledge, reducing reliance on costly and sometimes inappropriate moving of equipment and expertise around the world. This project brought together the external skills of film-makers with community knowledge, local culture and facilitation. Through a collaborative community driven process, the lasting tools for self-help and resilience are shared to mitigate the effects of repeated disasters. Working through children to spread awareness of early warning signs and effective response strategies can build community and save lives.

IMPACT ON PLANET ​Climate change is leading to increased frequency of natural disasters and communities need to build their own plans for responding to these in ways that use local resources and minimise international travel and interference. These plays and films were used to encourage people to look after their environments and help to increase resilience and preparedness to  such disasters.

IMPACT ON PEOPLE This approach was designed to empower people to build resilience. In doing so it encouraged children to take an active part in their communities and brought local communities together to discuss what disasters they might be facing. One film specifically looked at community relationships and social harmony.


How can creative arts like puppetry be used as mass educational tools to quickly inform communities about effective disaster risk reduction and response?

The films have been screened for over 10,000 school children, and a further 5,000 people during other public showings and are highly effective for school and community education. IDEP, its partner organizations and many others who have used the films have integrated them into broader DRR training and education programs. While puppet shows can be developed locally and facilitators trained, the filming of the short plays and stories makes them easily scalable. However, reflecting local contexts and norms is important and they may need to be remade for other areas.

There is a long history of using puppetry to spread messages in development and humanitarian work. Many cultures have a tradition of puppetry and skilled local story tellers and puppeteers. Even in areas where this doesn’t exist adults and children tend to respond well to the representation of familiar situations. Re-Alliance can provide training in how to build puppets from local materials and develop stories and workshops to share key information.

IDEP develops and delivers training, community programs and media about sustainable development through Permaculture, and community-based disaster management. If you are interested in similar projects contact us to be connected.


Supporting educational materials that can be used in conjunction with the films:

  • IDEP’s Community Based Disaster Management (CBDM) manual for disaster preparedness – a comprehensive guide that empower communities to develop their own strategies for disaster management (this manual is endorsed and used by a range of bodies working in disaster management including: UNESCO, USAID, Oxfam, CHF, IOM, Bakornas (Indonesia’s national body for disaster management) and MPBI

  • For more information on IDEP's educational materials, including a series of children's comics and activity books on Community Based Disaster Management, see here or get in touch.


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