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Puppets for peace

By Alexia Evripidou

The first ever bi-communal children’s TV puppet show is making preparations to break into mainstream television, with a little help from the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and a lot of initiative and hard work from the show’s founders, Greek Cypriot Christina Demetriades and Turkish Cypriot Evren Maner.

“Not only is it the first ever bi-communal puppet TV show but it’ll also be the first ever Cypriot puppet show for television,” says Demetriades.

The friends formed Free Island Productions and received 10,000 euro funding from the Stelios Foundation for their Cyprus Kidzone Puppet Project (CKPP) in October 2015. Since then they’ve injected every last cent into their project to bring it to life, as well as much more from their own pockets.

 

Now, with the puppets created and ten episodes written, the pilot show is ready for its first official screening on May 14 at Peace Works Children and Youth Festival hosted by Home for Cooperation in the moat at the Ledra Palace buffer zone, Nicosia. The show will be screened both in Greek and Turkish on loop between 11am-3pm. The event is the first peace festival taking place for children in Cyprus.

The CKPP is an inclusive project for 3 to 9-year-olds that uses puppets to entertain and educate children about peace and conflict resolution. It’s currently a 10 mini episode series, at six minutes long each. With more funds, it will grow into a 20-30 minute programme incorporating more multicultural puppets and location shootings around the Island.

Maner, a professional film maker and lecturer at the Eastern Mediterranean University and director of the CKPP, also runs a TV production company which is filming the project for free. Demetriades is a career and life coach and producer of the show. Together with their bi-communal team of 10 actors, writers, puppet-makers and film crew, they’ve begun to bring to life what was once a fantasy in Maner’s mind.

feature alexia- Evren Maner and Christina Demetriades at the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation awards

“I came up with the puppet idea about one half years ago but I was looking for a clever, strong and quick Greek Cypriot partner to jump onboard; Christina is the missing piece to the project,” says Maner.

“I could have done it alone for Turkish Cypriot children but I believe that if we keep doing things separately, then that will keep the division between the two cultures alive. If we work together, then we have a chance to form a new future for our island.”

“I know it’s a cliché, but children really are our future, they’re tomorrow’s peacekeepers,” says Demetriades. The couple noticed that there was a big gap in the market for bi-communal projects geared towards children, so they took immediate action and applied for funding.

There are currently three puppet stars in the show,  a Greek Cypriot girl called Eleftheria (freedom in Greek), a Turkish Cypriot boy called Ada (meaning island, and together meaning free island) and the wise philosopher Daphne.

The topics cover respect, Cyprus’ museums, castles, animal and human rights, numbers and vegetation. Each episode has a small language session at the end, teaching a related word in both languages.  “For example the first episode is about respect, so at the end of the episode we learn about the word respect in Greek (sevasmos) and Turkish (saygi) from Daphne,” says Demetriades.

The whole philosophy behind the series is peace education. They’ve enlisted experts to give their professional opinions including peace educators and child psychologists, NGOs, international organisations. They’ve also contacted  distribution and TV companies in both communities; there’s been a positive response so far. Official meetings with TV companies will occur after the screening.

“The Cyprus Kidzone Puppet Project is really innovative and has great potential for Cypriot children. It’s fun, whilst educating children about common goods which they can enjoy together,” says Elina Kofou, an educational psychologist. “It also teaches them about values which are necessary for peaceful coexistence not only on the island but in our globalised world in general.”

They hope that the shows will be aired simultaneously to both communities. Unfortunately, finances are an issue.

“It’s very expensive to do this and we’re trying to get children’s organisations all over Cyprus involved,” says Maner. “We want the project to continue long term; we’re looking at 2045, that’s when today’s kids become adults, I don’t want my country then to be in the same state that it is now.

“Can you imagine a Turkish Cypriot named character being the hero of Greek Cypriot children and a Greek Cypriot character the hero of a Turkish Cypriot child? How amazing would that be?”

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