Real lives

Real Lives

 

Mind Over Mines: UNICEF project uses children’s entertainment to teach life-saving lesson

© UNICEF/Armenia
June 2006, Eraskh village. Border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Village School. Puppet shows bring children into the tale. Closely following what puppets say and how they act in different situations, children absorb information that may save their lives in f
By UNICEF Armenia/Marianna Grigoryan             When Gayane and Hayk were going to play as usual in their forest meadow, they had no idea what danger faced them.         “Did you know that our forest is full of mines”, asks the ginger-feathered Bird quickly approaching the children from behind the colorful tree.         Since May 2005 within the framework of the UNICEF Mine Risk Education Program, Gayane and Hayk, the Bird, and other entertaining and educational characters have been cast in “Don’t Touch - Those are Mines!”, a puppet play produced for children in Armenia’s “risk zones”. Traveling to villages on the border with Azerbaijan, where unmapped and unmarked mines left from the Karabakh war are a hazard, puppeteers teach a life-saving lesson.           What are mines made of? What do they look like? Where are they often placed? How do we recognize areas we should avoid?       Answers to these and many other questions get the children carefully following the performance, listening to the stories and advice given by the puppet characters.           “Listen, children, carefully! Mines are made to wound, destroy and kill”, explains the Scientist, a funny but wise character. “Mines are more dangerous than the wolf and wittier than the fox. Mines can be well-hidden in nature. So avoid touching unfamiliar objects, play only with your toys.”         During the breaks of this multi-act performance the troupe director Armen Safaryan comes out to the stage and asks children a few questions to emphasize the messages. Active children start answering, using the information learned a little while ago.         “Interactive learning is the essential ingredient here,” says Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative in Armenia. “The puppet shows bring children into the tale. Rather than just passive recipients of information, children are active participants which is essential if children are to retain key information which could save their lives.”           Regular performances were held in the 27 most mine affect communities in border regions of the country. In addition to the puppet performances, photo-exhibitions were held in different provinces. Photos by well-known photographer German Avagyan tell about children who suffered from mines.           To ensure that messages on the danger of mines are passed on to children in a continuous manner, UNICEF jointly with the National Institute of Education of the Ministry of Education & Science of Armenia has developed two manuals for teachers on how to communicate important messages to school children.           Manuals called “Safety in Our Surrounding” give general information about mined territories of Armenia as well as the risks connected with them. They provide information on safe behavior in those areas and other essential knowledge, which, specialists say, is of vital importance.           A total area of about 321 square kilometers along the border is considered dangerous due to mines, especially in the regions of Ararat, Gegharkunik, Vayots Dzor, Syunik and Tavoush . The last two are the most mine-affected regions of Armenia.       Research carried out last year by the United Nations Development Program and Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation estimates 69,000 people are affected by mines and unexploded ordinance in Armenia.           “The risk is extremely high”, says, Alvard Poghosyan, UNICEF Armenia’s Education Officer who is overseeing the project.  “During the war territories were mined, and no maps of them are available, which makes the situation even more complicated. There were cases when the miner was killed when he detonated a mine he had placed himself. No matter if there is peace or war; we have to be ready for everything.”           Poghosyan says that the best thing in this situation is to raise the level of awareness of children living in the border regions and to promote safe behavior among them. “Playing with whatever they come across, children often reach the risk zones, putting their lives in danger. Children suffer in the majority of cases because of their curiosity,” Poghosyan says. 
© UNICEF/Armenia
June 2006, Eraskh village. Border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Village School. Troupe director gets children involved in interactive exercises that help children apply knowledge they got from puppets in practice.

"The activities included in this program are aimed specifically at informing children living in border areas of Armenia which are considered to be high-risk zones.”

Thirteen year-old Astghik, a resident of Eraskh village, watching attentively the performance, says everything was new to her.

“We couldn’t even imagine where the danger could come from and what risk we have been taking every day. My friends, relatives and I will be more careful,” the teenager says.

Situated about 65 kilometers from Yerevan, this village of about 1,000 residents knows first-hand what war, military actions, bombing and social hardship mean.

“Look! The border is over there,” say the residents pointing at the mountains. The village school is only 800 meters from the border.

Bombing ended a few years ago, but this village is still marked by their destructive impact. The school is half-ruined from bombs.

The school principal Mariam Levonyan says the school was first bombed in 1989. This first was followed by a number of others.

“Two years ago one of our villagers died as a result of a landmine explosion. He had gone to tend his sheep and right there, in the pasture, the mine blew up. This kind of activity (the puppet show) is very important especially for children, as mostly they are the ones taking the stock to the pastures,” says Levonyan.

The effectiveness of the puppet show and the impact it has is highly appreciated also by the actors and the art director.

“If a TV channel can be changed to another, and the brochure telling about mines ignored, puppet theatre performance is a different matter. It plays a special part in children’s lives,” says Armen Safaryan, the Head of the Armenian Union of Puppeteers and Marionettes “The risk is very high in border regions. Hence children should be informed to be protected. And this (the performance) is one of the brightest and most effective means.”

Irina Sargsyan, 23, a mother of two children, agrees that the impact is great, and the knowledge passed to children through puppet performances is very valuable and useful.

“We watch the performance and realize how little we know about all of this,” says Irina. “Children are very fond of digging out things, pulling, burning, exploding; and now I can see how interested and concentrated they are. I’m sure that after the performance they will be more careful.”

For more information, please, contact:

Emil Sahakyan, Information & Communications Officer, UNICEF Armenia

Tel.: (374 10) 52 35 46, 58 01 74, 58 05 16

E-mail.: esahakyan@unicef.org

 

 
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