Puppets to educate children on HIV

A scene from one of the No Strings natural disaster films
A scene from one of the No Strings natural disaster films

By Cara Sulieman

A BRITISH-based couple have teamed up with the creators of the Muppets to educate children in Africa about HIV and Aids.

Johnie McGlade, founder of the educational charity No Strings, headed out to New York earlier this week to oversee the filming of puppet shows that teach kids about the killer disease.

It was a chance meeting between Johnie and two Muppet artists that led to the creation of the charity in 2004.

And now they are pooling their skills once again to make the films that they hope will save lives.

Fraggle Rock

The team includes husband and wife team Kathy Mullen and Michael Firth, both of whom were involved with the Muppets and were behind the creation of Fraggle Rock.

With years of experience under their belt, they were keen to get on board.

Johnie said: “The team in America is the best group of puppeteers in the world for sure.

“They all love working as well, and this is their way of putting something back.

“And working with children in developing countries is something they never thought they would get the chance to do with their skills.”

Johnie McGlade, Kathy Mullen, Rosie Waller and Heather Asch
Johnie McGlade, Kathy Mullen, Rosie Waller and Heather Asch

The charity has made seven films so far, covering topics such as landmine safety, peace building and coping with natural disasters.

With important messages conveyed through imaginative stories and accessible puppets, they have been a hit with local charities across the world.

And now the team are setting their sights on promoting HIV/Aids education throughout East Africa.

They have been asked to produce three films covering prevention, gender equality and stigma in relation to HIV.

“It’s very difficult”

And although the topics are difficult to talk to young kids about, the puppets are so engaging that the message gets across.

Kathy Mullen, creator and co-producer of the HIV films knows how difficult this can be.

She said: “How do you tell a young girl that she should avoid the older boyfriends with their motorbikes and the cool things in life? It’s very difficult.

“All you can do is offer something that will really resonate with them, in a format that will focus their attention because it’s enjoyable.

“That’s the lesson we’ve learnt with all our work all over the world, and it’s no different for young people in this country than it is in Africa.”


It’s hoped the films will start being shown to communities in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania by the end of the year.

The inspiration for the charity came from Johnie’s work as an aid worker in refugee camps around the world.

When working for the Irish charity GOAL, a friend gave him a puppet.

Named Seamus, the puppet travelled round the world with Johnie whilst he worked with both GOAL and then with War Child.

He discovered that it was much easier to talk to people when Seamus was on his hand.


He said: “Seamus was always my party trick, and I took him with me in the field so that I’d have something to do at night.

“But I quickly learnt that he was much more than just a party trick – people would listen to Seamus before they listened to me. And not just children, adults as well.”

So when his American flatmate in London saw a photo of Johnie and Seamus together, she mentioned that her aunt and uncle were involved with puppetry and had always wanted to work in developing nations.

Johnie flew to America to meet Kathy Mullen and Michael Firth, and their partnership started.