In the drive to educate people about COVID-19, a man in Kenya can be found literally pulling strings. Puppeteer Michael Mutahi uses his craft to entertain and teach kids about the dangers of the virus and is gaining quite a following.
Putting his two decades of puppeteering skills to use for educating kids about COVID-19, Mutahi records his puppet shows in front of a small audience and shares the video online. ‘It’s hand washing, keep distance – everyone was actually saying the same thing. But I look to myself and ask myself – am a writer, am a puppeteer, I can edit, I can do all these things so I think can come up with something more creative because guys are so bored at home and they need information and also need to be entertained,” said Mutahi, who is 41.
Kenya has close to 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 1,700 deaths.
Mutahi’s grandma and grandpa puppets – known as Kuhu and Babu in Swahili – teach coronavirus prevention to his growing audience.
Nairobi resident Steve Maina watched a recent taping of the show.
“For kids it’s better, cause kids would like more fun. It would draw their attention when they are watching puppetry. It draws the attention for young age,” Maina said.
Mutahi is among 100 professional puppeteers in Kenya.Director of Kenya’s Institute of Puppet Theater (KIPT) Phylemon Okoth says they are doing more than just entertaining.
“We have managed also to play role in creating awareness in the community in relation to COVID-19 and we have several clips out there not only from KIPT but also from partner organizations that we’ve trained that actually coordinate most of their work and also from individuals,” Okoth said.
Kenyan authorities are supporting the use of puppets for COVID-19 education.
Ezekiel Mutua, the chief executive officer of Kenya’s Film Classification Board, says the trend is gaining popularity.“So, we take the art to them. More importantly because of COVID-19 right now the idea of having closed door theater is not very popular because you are limited because of social distancing. So, this cinema, mobile cinema units will become very popular,” Mutua said.For Mutahi, the merging of COVID prevention teaching and puppetry means his art will also reach an even larger audience in Kenya.