Puppets used to help children work through trauma

Philippine puppeteer Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete talks about using puppets to heal children traumatized by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

'When you're with toys, you feel more comfortable'

Puppeteer Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete used puppets to help traumatized children in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. (Ellis Choe, CBC News)

After Typhoon Haiyan smashed parts of the Philippines in 2013, puppeteer Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete realized something, while performing at a day care.

Namely, that puppets were a safe space for traumatized children — who had seen too much death and too much destruction too early in their lives — to find words to put to their feelings.

Bonifacio-Ramolete is in Calgary to speak this weekend at the Puppet Power Conference, where she's delivering a talk called Promoting Resilience through Puppetry: The Typhoon Haiyan (Philippine) Experience. She dropped by The Homestretch with Sita, one of her puppets to talk about the experience.

Q: What was the origin of your puppet company?

A: Our puppet group started in 1977, initially to do puppet shows for children, to entertain them and introduce Asian or Philippine folk tales — because at that time, there were few children's book and few entertainments for children so [creating] that was the goal for my mother.

Eventually, we did workshops for teachers and children — not only in schools, but also in communities.

Q: Why puppets?

A: I think she was attracted to the Japanese Bunraku [style of puppetry] when she did her research on children's theatre and she was introduced to the Japanese Bunraku and the Indonesian Wayang Golek style.

At that time, I was growing as a child,and she saw the lack of education entertainment for children. So she told herself that when she comes back, she will try to bring back things she saw from her observation tour.

Q: What happened after the 2013 typhoon?

A: It was a devastating situation …because a lot of lives were lost and property damaged.

Our first opportunity was to go to an elementary school. We were there to do workshops with teachers and children

We didn't want to touch upon what happened to them during the typhoon, but eventually, when we did a section on what we called Create Your Own Yolanda puppet because in the Philippines, the typhoon was named Yolanda.

So we told them to create your own Yolanda puppet. Some created puppets that had a positive impression of — hopefully — things will grow back, like the trees and the plants.

And there were other puppets that were really like monsters —so you would see how the children took the impact or effect of the typhoon.

Q: Why do puppets make such a difference with children?

A: Because they're like toys — and when you're with toys, you feel more comfortable. And they're small. 

Teachers are big — in terms of size. So although they may not be threatening, their size might have an effect on children as well.

Even in the process of creativity, they are able to express themselves in a way, and then when we ask them, why don't you introduce your puppet to the audience? And some shy children are not as shy when they have a puppet instead of them facing [the] audience — so it builds their confidence in terms of communicating with other people.

Q: Do you think puppets reduce social barriers, for shy children?

A: Yes I believe so, because if you are a shy person, it's not you facing other people. So you have somebody else to talk for you.

Because we also encourage the audience to ask questions after a puppet is introduced so they start the conversation, — and the stories just come out.

With files from The Homestretch


Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: