Puppet family helps children in Peru cope with emotional toll of COVID-19
Children in Peru suffering the mental health impacts of prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns, schools closures, and the loss of parents and caregivers have turned to a range of both traditional and innovative methods to help them cope —including a family of puppets.
The “La Familia Sanito,” or the Sanito Family, is a series of videos with original puppet characters depicting a multigenerational Peruvian family of mother, father, brother, sister, and grandmother. The characters aim to represent the diversity of families in Lima Norte, and speak in colloquial, simple language that even the youngest viewer can follow.
In mini-episodes, the puppets experience the difficulties of pandemic lockdowns and, rather than telling viewers what to do, make mistakes and teach each other better ways to cope.
Peru has the world’s highest fatality rate per COVID-19 case, with more than 200,000 people dying of COVID-19 in a country of less than 33 million. While the exact numbers are unknown, a study published six months ago in May estimated almost 100,000 children had lost a primary caregiver—or one in every 100 children.[ii]
To mitigate the spread of the virus, Peru has also maintained one of the world´s strictest school closures: as of November 2021, 85.4 percent of schools remained closed. Remote learning as a response to these closures has been out of reach to many, with poverty and lack of digital resources a significant barrier to access.
“La Familia Sanito,” is being used throughout Save the Children’s COVID response programs in Peru to meet some of the needs of children impacted by family deaths and prolonged lockdowns, and are accompanied by a series of workbooks featuring the puppets, which guide children through creative activities that help them identify their emotions. Parents and children also join Facebook live sessions hosted by the puppets, which introduce social and emotional exercises aimed at supporting children and their caregivers.
The series was first launched in Lima Norte, one of the five areas that make up the capital city of Lima, and home to some of Peru’s most vulnerable children. High poverty rates, densely packed homes, a lack of running water, and poor infrastructure meant that many households struggled to maintain a hygienic environment during the pandemic, let alone access mental health supports or remote learning tools.
Save the Children provided families in Lima Norte with health and hygiene materials, to keep children safe, but also introduced “La Familia Sanito” to meet children’s emotional health needs.
Verónica Valdivieso, the CEO of Save the Children Peru, said:
“This family of loving, relatable characters confronts many challenges related to the pandemic: remote learning, isolation from friends, positive parenting techniques—even the difficult subject of domestic violence. They provide important information to kids and caregivers trying to navigate life in the pandemic.
“La Familia Sanito encourages parents and children to learn and talk about a wide variety of issues related to the pandemic and lockdown. It was important to us that the videos and activities be fun, not dry, overwhelming instructional materials.
“We are thrilled that these resources will soon be reaching children across Peru. For almost two years, the unique devastation children in Peru have suffered in this pandemic has been largely hidden. Children need support that includes their social, emotional, and academic needs.”
Since launching La Familia Sanito in May 2021 based on a design by Yei Yei Titeres, Save the Children has partnered with the Peruvian Ministry of Education so that schoolchildren throughout the country can access these tools as part of their remote learning.
[i] https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality, “Cases and mortality by country,” visited December 12, 2021.
[ii] Hillis, Susan, Juliette Unwin, Lucie Cluver, Lorraine Sherr, Philip Goldman, Laura Rawlings, Gretchen Bachman et al. "Children: the hidden pandemic 2021: a joint report of COVID-19-associated orphanhood and a strategy for action." (2021). https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01253-8/fulltext#articleInformation
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