Workshop with Raising the Village in Uganda

The Empathy Toy in Ugandan Daycare and Orphanage

This fall of 2012, we worked with Raising the Village, a non-profit organization that provides critical infrastructure, tools and training to recovering villages in Uganda. Founder Shawn Cheung and International Programs officer Krystal Muise were trained on the Empathy Toy and brought it with them to the Grace Daycare and Orphanage in the Nanga village for their November program. They hoped that the children would “enjoy having time to play with toys as well as gain an understanding of how much work and effort goes into communicating… to get a sense for collaborative learning and how learning is best facilitated in environments when everyone is participating equally.” The results, however, were not what we expected.

After their first workshop, we received this message from Shawn:

"Never played with toys in their entire lives"

We were expecting the unexpected, but it was very tough to bring in toys to a community that had never had toys. The basic concept of putting pieces together and building things that serve no practical purpose was one that was too foreign for the students. Krystal explained that hard skills are learned early on. The children play with sticks and balls, and love make-believe and telling stories, but the idea of building physical things just to play with is unheard of. She continues,

“What was even more challenging was the shyness of the children as well as the cultural barriers. Ugandan children are taught to be very submissive to authority and so are not brought up to give direction but rather to take direction. Because of this the children didn’t understand how to give direction to their peers.”

Shawn added another interesting observation. After playing with the Empathy Toy, which involves two students trying to re-create a puzzle while blindfolded, the students were comfortable with not completing the task correctly. Mistakes were okay and, as Krystal observed, they work very hard but understand that things don’t need to be perfect, nor can they be.

A learning opportunity for the organization

In the end, the toy proved to be more of a learning opportunity for the organization than the expected collaboration workshop for the students. Krystal said that after the workshops they realized how their programming could improve in regards to how they train their staff, especially understanding the importance of breaking down the directions they give and ensuring that they give clear instructions. They also realized how much work needs to be done in raising the confidence of the children, especially the girls; who spoke very little while playing with the toy, and were most reluctant to ask questions. To learn more about the incredible work that Raising The Village does, please visit their website at:

The Empathy Toy

…is a blindfolded puzzle game that can only be solved when players learn to understand each other.

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