Children gear up for annual puppet festival

Children gear up for annual puppet festival

TEN giant puppets, up to 15 feet tall, are taking shape in a Siem Reap workshop, where they will be hidden from public view until the third annual Giant Puppet Project hits the streets on March 28.

Almost 500 children are crafting the puppets for the carnival, which was started in 2007 by London-based Jig Cochrane, and local expats Stuart Cochlin and Sasha Constable.

This year, the festival has partnered with 14 NGOs, including Green Gecko, Friends International and Handicap International, to involve a record number of disadvantaged children. Under the direction of Cochrane, the children are building puppets that express messages about health, safety and Khmer culture.

"The children are given a platform to teach the rest of the town through the carnival. That's the main aim of the project. That, and to have fun," Cochrane said.

This year, the carnival will have puppets built around the themes of endangered species, health and hygiene, road safety, and the universe and planets.

While many of the models are still under construction, Cochrane reported that a team from the Green Gecko orphanage has this week completed a puppet of the endangered Greater Adjutant bird, which boasts a monstrous wingspan of eight metres.

Cochrane said that the children will also build a giant puppet out of plastic bottles, as part of a campaign to encourage recycling.

The puppets are based on traditional Eastern lantern puppets. "At night we have music floats and everything lights up," Cochrane said.

"All the puppets have lights inside. It's quite a spectacle."

Cochlin, the project's director, said that in the long-term he hopes to hand over management of the Giant Puppet Project to Cambodian organisers, a plan that will involve "sharing the knowledge of how to make these puppets, training the local Khmers how to teach and raising the funding to keep it going".

"The only way it can be sustainable is if it's completely Khmer-run," he said.

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