Saturday, December 09, 2006

The World According to Sesame Street

I DVR'd a PBS Independent Lens a few months ago about different versions of Sesame Street around the world. Sesame Street is currently in 120 different countries, but this particular episode focused on Kosovo, South Africa, and Bangladesh, and I found it to be one of the most moving and informative programs I've seen in a long, long time. I cried many, many times- and I know it's easy to be outraged at the state of our world from the comfort of my well-heated apartment with a stomach full of food, and anyway, outrage feels so helpless. I'm sending some money to PBS right now. Even that feels like I'm not doing enough.

The first part of the program dealt with Kosovo, and the Albanian/Serb segregation. These children go to separate schools, and are being taught to hate one another from birth. The crew asked a 6-year old Serb if he was interested in knowing any Albanian children, and he said no; when asked why, he answered "because they kill us and throw us in holes. They burn down our houses." It was so matter-of-fact. These children have no childhood. They've seen more terror in their few years on earth than most of us will see in a lifetime of $8 movies at the multiplex. Most of them quit elementary school to help support their families. They work- actual, physical labor, all day, every day, instead of learning to read, just so they will have dinner that night. The entire country has one television station and it's run by the government, so incorporating racial tolerance had to be done incredibly delicately.

The South Africa segment dealt with their inclusion of an HIV+ character, Kami. In a country where it is assumed you have HIV until proved otherwise, it was a logical step to introduce Kami and her specific needs and issues to the South African youth who identify with her. She is a furry, yellow Muppet who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion as an infant, after her mother had died of the disease. Since most South African children know someone who has AIDS, the character has become a national hero, beloved by the country's people. Kami has appeared at the United Nations and the World Bank and was interviewed by Katie Couric. She has also been named a UNICEF ambassador for children and has appeared in Takalani segments alongside Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

The Bangladesh portion dealt mostly with the lack of governmental support the program has had and how the crews were shut down more than once due to rioting and bombing in the filming area. Due to 09/11 they were unable to get to New York to meet with Sesame Headquarters, so they got their training from the South African team. Sisimpur is Bangladesh's very first educational television program, and due to lack of national support, USAID has committed $7 million in funding over the first three years. They also added a special little girl character focused on showing young Bangladesh girls that they have the same value as boys. Her name is Tuktuki.

It was honestly a stunning documentary; I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend using some of your Christmas time and/or funds for a child somewhere - across the world, or right here at home, a child could have a better Christmas, a better education, and a better life if we all pitch in.


Blogger krysten said...

can i pitch in my child??

haha, ok sorry, i know this was a serious post, but i couldnt resist.

i know what you mean about feeling like even if you do something, it doesnt feel like you even did anything. that's so sad. chanelle and i passed a Christmas Angel setup at the mall today, where you can pull a tag off one of the trees and buy the toy that particular child requested, and it was so sad i couldnt bear to even think more about it. thats of course nothing to a place where they have to create entirely new show characters to introduce HIV to children, but nonetheless it still deals with a child that isnt living the blessed childhood that we as privileged people believe children should have.

ugh. makes me feel yucky. :(

December 10, 2006 8:54 PM  
Anonymous mybedlinen said...

The saddest piece to this whole story was the about the 6 year old serb. We look at 6 year old's in our country, and for the most part, see happy kids, having fun, playing games, going to school and our their parents "world". Then you hear the story of the 6 year old serb that has already been "trained" to hate, and has no childhood or happiness in his world- how sad is that!

April 04, 2011 5:21 AM  

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