Juvenile arthritis strikes up to three in 1000 children in B.C. and is one of the most common chronic diseases among children. Cassie and Friends’ Kids on the Block, an educational puppet troupe, is spreading awareness about juvenile arthritis at elementary schools like the one Sarika Adriaanse attends in Vernon. The aim is to help children understand arthritis. With the aid of a $2,500 grant from Telus’ Community Board, the performance will visit several other interior school boards.
Sarika attends Silver Star Elementary in Vernon. She was diagnosed with a rare auto inflammatory form of juvenile arthritis called juvenile dermatomyosis, which affects the skin and muscles, causing severe weakness. On her good days, she can get to school on her own. On other days, due to sever weakness, she requires help to make it to class on time and shows up in a stroller. Her mom, Ankie, stated that at the onset of the disease, Sarika couldn’t even climb a step or walk 10 metres without help.
The troupe tells the story through two puppets – Leslie and Jennifer. Leslie lives with juvenile arthritis and is not always able to attend school or participate in certain activities. Jennifer is the friend that doesn’t understand and questions her friend’s disease. To view a video of snippets of the show, please click here.
During the show, puppeteers will interact with the children, asking and answering questions. Examples of questions that were asked by the puppeteers include:
- If Leslie was your friend, would you tease her for having arthritis?
- Would you bully her for having arthritis?
Through this interactive play, kids learn what happens when your joints get stiff or how people get arthritis. The show portrayed what challenges a classmate with juvenile arthritis might be facing: pain, isolation, depression and mobility challenges. Most importantly, the kids were able to connect with Leslie and Jennifer. Like Leslie, Sarika, is not that much different from the rest of the kids in school. The puppeteers feel that the puppets can break down barriers and address serious topics (inclusion, health, disability) through humour and a positive interactive experience.
In an interview with Vernon’s The Morning Star, Sarika’s mom, Ankie, said, “It’s all about inclusion. And it’s comforting that I’m not alone.”o learn more about “Kids on the Block”, please click here.