The first Sesame Street episode aired on public broadcasting television stations in America on Nov. 10, 1969. The purpose of Sesame Street was to educate young children and prepare them for school. However, Sesame Street is teaching children more than their ABC’s and 123’s. The show teaches children about friendship, family, love, diversity and culture.
Sesame Street airs in more than 120 countries around the world. The production company, Sesame Workshop, has also worked in developing co-productions overseas. India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Northern Ireland and Brazil are some of the countries that have their own versions of Sesame Street. Each version has its own unique name. For instance, Sesame Street in Bangladesh is called Sisimpur, and in South Africa, it is called Takalani Sesame. Sesame Workshop’s international co-productions aim to portray the current political and social environments of the different countries.
On April 7, Sesame Workshop made an important announcement. Sesame Workshop introduced its first female Afghan Muppet named Zari. Zari is a six-year-old purple Muppet with multi-colored hair. She wears a headscarf along with her school uniform, and her name means “shimmering” in the Dari and Pashto languages. According to Sesame Workshop, Zari is to become a role model for girls living in countries that have a poor history of promoting women’s rights. Zari’s character focuses on the importance of girl empowerment, health and emotional wellbeing. She will only appear in Baghach-e-Simsim, Afghan’s version of Sesame Street.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Philip Toscano, the director of communications for Sesame Workshop, said that he hoped Zari would be a character the viewers of Baghach-e-Simsim could relate to.
“We’ve [Sesame Workshop] been in Afghanistan for five years. In our effort to create more content, and relevant content, this was a natural step in production,” stated Toscano in his interview.
Sherrie Westin, the executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy for Sesame Workshop who also conducted an interview with The New York Times, stated that Zari is going to be a strong character with whom both girls and boys can identify.
“It’s a way of making sure we are not just teaching, but we are modeling, which is very powerful. We know children learn best when they can identify themselves with the character on the screen… It’s so powerful that the first Afghan Muppet is a girl. The exciting part about Zari is that she is modeling for young girls that it is wonderful to go to school and that it’s OK to dream about having a career,” said Westin in her interview.
Zari, who is played by a local Afghan performer, will be featured in every episode. According to Toscano, Zari will speak directly to the audience, interact with children on the show and interview a variety of Afghan professionals.
Students at Mt. Hebron believe that the new Afghan Muppet is inspirational.
“I think that the new Afghan Muppet is beneficial for young girls in Afghanistan,” junior Denise Linn said. “Zari is a great role model for children.”
“It would be cool to see a Zari in American homes as well,” added sophomore Ellie Gustafson.
So far, the Sesame Workshop has made a total of 26 episodes in its new season of Baghach-e-Simsim, and its first episode aired on Thursday. The U.S. State Department has helped fund the Sesame Workshop to create more episodes in Baghach-e-Simsim.