Cultural Conservation

Girl at mask-making workshop in Haiti.
Young Mask-Making Student

Play and playful education are important to cultural conservation. Local children’s games, song and dance, storytelling and mask-making are activities that preserve local traditions.

At play, children transmit the tradition, even while they uniquely interpret it. Ultimately, children at play can refresh a culture, playing off culture’s endless possibilities to stimulate fantasy and imagination.

Cultural Conservation in Kenya

In Kenya, kids were eager to learn and make plans for the future. So, in that spirit, CPI taught them a useful skill: videography. How about filming their own songs and dances? It seemed like a natural. We had brought film-making equipment as part of our recording project and, since the kids took to the process, we left the equipment behind. This skill will be increasingly important as smartphones with video cameras become used more broadly.

Film-Making Workshop with CPI

At first, the kids were afraid to touch the equipment. But after a while, they got the hang of it – e.g., the camera remains motionless because you want to capture the movement out there. You can still adjust the focus, however – here’s how. Finally, however, there was a revelation. What if we could film more than just the singing and dancing? What if we could tell stories? So, CPI started a film-making workshop.

Storytelling, Song and Dance

The kids already had some concept of building a narrative based on their performances in song. The trick would be to teach them how to develop a narrative in film.

Children at AIDS orphanage in during video workshop

Storytelling is the Foundation of Filmmaking

We practiced making up stories, first with people, then with animals. The kids learned to build stories – with beginnings, middles, and ends – that became increasingly imaginative. Maybe they were budding Disneys! But more importantly, they were learning about narrative structure. Logic. This was hard work (while the kids were practiced storytellers, they did not usually construct stories from scratch for public presentation). Some kids got nervous.

As they got the hang of it, they went beyond mere stories, i.e., simple, bare scenarios without specific acting instructions or parts for specific actors. They made up actual plays, whose scenes they could act out and film. They figured out the idea of character development (a challenge even to real playwrights). While much of the action was still improvised, you could see the thought that went into the productions. They were thinking in terms of performance, not just intelligibility.

Using Storytelling to Heal from Trauma

We suspected that the children and young adults might search their own lives for stories since they had endured so much, including losing parents to HIV/AIDS.  We learned something important about how any of our projects – in any country – might develop:

When we arrived in Kenya, we never intended to teach videography; the equipment was intended for our professional use. But as the project proceeded, we saw potential benefits to engaging the kids in filming themselves. It could be another way of drawing them out, which might excite them if only for its novelty. What happened was more than we could have hoped for. The kids opened up, delighted by new ways to express themselves that they never imagined would be available.

The kids also exhibited a sense of pride. Unlike drawing, which came naturally to most kids, everyone recognized videography as a skill. The kids knew that they had learned something new and potentially useful. It was also a source of fun, as they realized that they could “shoot” each other and, like us, make permanent records of themselves. They started imagining what they might shoot, instantly becoming little producers.


After we left, the children continued to film themselves with the equipment we left behind. They started to talk about their grief and their trauma.


Girls in Sri Lanka interpret a story through dance.

Cultural Conservation, Song and Dance in Sri Lanka

Song and Dance is cultural conservation.

In Sri Lanka, song and dance are an expression and communication of emotions. Each dance represents something, has a deeper meaning and often coincides with a change of seasons, festivals, and traditional celebrations. The girls practiced and performed numerous dances, the most spectacular being the harvest dance with sieves.

Our projects in Sri Lanka are just one example of how ChildsPlay International is making a difference in the lives of children around the world. We believe in the power of play, including storytelling, song and dance, and creative activities to empower children, activate their creativity, and help them heal from traumatic experiences.

Cultural Conservation in Peru

In Peru, CPI collaborated on a storytelling project based on traditional stories from the high Andes and the Amazonian zone.

The children of the remote village of Cochomoco listened attentively to traditional stories told by the village elders.

On the following day, CPI provided paper, pencils and crayons for the children to express themselves and draw their versions of the stories they had heard. The results were magnificent, especially considering that the children rarely have the luxury of playing with pen and paper. Each child personalized the myths, legends, and folklore they had listened to on the previous day. The experience called on a type of creativity only elicited by play. Their work was exhibited and will be assembled into a prototype book for publication.

Girl in Haiti painting mask during mask-making workshop.

Cultural Conservation in Haiti

In Haiti, Jacmel is famous for Haiti’s Carnival, which happens annually. Jacmel is also a UNESCO landmark. The Carnival is a celebration of masks, song and dance.  As carnival season draws near, the children at Didier’s mask-making workshop, practice their steps for the big day, and young and old come together to celebrate Haiti’s vibrant culture.

CPI is proud to support Didier’s mask-making program, where also girls are enrolled, and thus breaking the gender barriers. 

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