Andrew Wade

Andrew Wade

Puppets help break down barriers in Vernon

Cassie and Friends' Kids on the Block educational puppet troupe spreads awareness about juvenile arthritis at Silver Star Elementary

Some days, little Sarika Adriaanse is like any normal six-year-old, getting herself ready and off to school on her own two feet. Other days, when the weakness is too much, she needs a little more help to make it to class on time.

“When she feels weak in the morning she comes to school in a stroller,” said mom Ankie.

“Other kids can quickly make comments. They don’t mean it, but if you don’t know something you don’t understand it.”

Sarika suffers from a rare autoinflammatory form of juvenile arthritis called Juvenile Dermatomyosis, which affects the skin and muscles, causing severe weakness.

But thanks to a special puppet show, her Silver Star Elementary classmates were given a little more insight into just what arthritis looks like for kids like Sarika and three in 1,000 kids across B.C. it affects.

Cassie and Friends’ Kids on the Block, an educational puppet troupe, were at the Vernon elementary school Tuesday to spread awareness about the disease.


Using puppet characters, the troupe tells the story of a young girl named Leslie and her friend Jennifer. Leslie has juvenile arthritis and sometimes misses school and can’t participate in certain activities, but Jennifer doesn’t understand and questions her friend’s condition.

“If Leslie was your friend would you tease her for having arthritis? Would you bully her for having arthritis?” puppeteer Andrew Wade asked the students. “It’s just one part of who she is.”

Through the interactive play, kids were able to ask questions and learn what happens when your joints get stiff or how people get arthritis. But they also learned that Leslie, like Sarika, aren’t much different than the rest of them.

“What’s your favourite colour?” one student asked the puppet, who replied: “Blue.”

“Mine too,” the student eagerly replied.

The play illustrated what a classmate with juvenile arthritis might be facing: pain, isolation, depression and mobility challenges. But using the puppets, barriers were broken and acceptance was gained.

“It’s all about inclusion,” said Ankie, whose daughter couldn’t even climb a step or walk 10 metres when symptoms first presented.

“And it’s comforting that I’m not alone.”

Now Sarika’s mom cries when she watches her little girl climb the monkey bars at school.

The performance was made possible thanks to a $2,500 grant from Telus’ Community Board. The Vernon stop was one of several Interior school visits.