Learning through play can bring smiles to children living in the world’s toughest places.

After six years of war in Yemen, the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened a crisis that has left over half of the population hungry and nearly 4 million people internally displaced—all while the virus spreads at unprecedented levels. Despite this grim backdrop, the International Rescue Committee has found a playful way to teach children there how to protect themselves from COVID-19, cholera and others diseases: Puppets.

Meet children in Al-Manshar camp for displaced people in southern Yemen as they interact with puppet cows, foxes and other friendly animals and learn how to wash their hands and avoid crowded places.

Photos by Mahmoud Fadhel

A group of young children sit while watching a puppet show. One girl interacts with the volunteer talking to her with a cow puppet

“How do you protect yourself from the coronavirus and other diseases?” The puppets ask the children practical and engaging questions about how to stay safe from diseases such as COVID-19.

Najeeba smiles while she reaches out to touch a fox puppet

Najeeba (pictured above), like many of the children living in the camp, has been displaced multiple times, living in different camps for people displaced by the war before her family moved to Al-Manshar camp.

Outside in Al-Manshar camp in Yemen, a yellow tarp is set up between tents. Just above the tarp are a fox and cow puppet, part of the show to teach children about COVID-19.

The makeshift puppet theater is set up among the tents  in Al-Manshar camp, with a troupe of local IRC volunteers putting on the show.

In Al-Manshar camp, a litle girl sits and looks at a cow puppet that a volunteer is using to teach her about COVID-19 prevention.

 “I like the puppet theatre,” says six-year-old Ashwaq, pictured above, “They taught me how to wash my hands with water and soap so I can protect myself from diseases”

Outside in Al-Manshar camp, five-year-old Yasser laughs while looking at a fox puppet

Five-year-old Yasser laughs at the fox puppet, he was displaced from his home in Al-Hodeidah before living in Al-Dhale’e camp and then Al-Manshar.

Using a yellow tarp as their "stage," a cow and fox puppet have a "conversation" during a puppet show on COVID-19 prevention

The puppet show is interactive, with the puppets asking the children to repeat back what they have learned about keeping themselves safe from diseases. 

A young girl talks to a cow puppet as other children watch

The IRC in Yemen

The risk of the coronavirus and other disease is just one of the multiple crises Yemenis face. After nearly seven years of war, the country is also grappling with malnutrition, poverty and violence.

The International Rescue Committee provides lifesaving emergency aid, clean water, education, women’s protection and medical care to millions of people in Yemen affected by violent conflict and a growing health crisis. Find out more.

Our work in Yemen is partially funded by the European Union.