Sesame Street's Rohingya MuppetsSesame Street is developing two Rohingya muppets to help refugee children overcome trauma. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by fostering access to education. Poverty affects all aspects of life. Children who live in poverty suffer from many physical, intellectual and emotional complications. Child stunting, for example, is a result of nutrient-deficient diets, repeated infection and a lack of psychosocial stimulation in the first years of a child’s life. This has dire long-term outcomes for children, including impaired intellectual development. Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets aim to improve the intellectual development of Rohingya children, which directly affects education, and in turn, poverty.

Stunting and Malnutrition in Rohingya Children

The Rohingya people are a stateless Muslim minority group who have lived in a state of flux, between Myanmar and Bangladesh, since they were forced to flee Myanmar. They were violently persecuted by the Myanmar military, an instance of ethnic cleansing. Close to 800,000 Rohingya refugees have escaped to Bangladesh. It is common for refugees to live in refugee camps within Bangladesh.

A group of refugee camps, located in Cox’s Bazar, was the subject of a 2017-2018 study on the rates of stunting and malnutrition in Rohingya children. The study found that the rate of stunting “dropped from 44% to 38% in the main camp.” Although it is positive that the rate of childhood stunting declined, the rate of childhood stunting still remained dangerously close to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) critical health emergency threshold of 40%.

Additionally, the rate of acute malnutrition dropped from close to 20% to nearly 10%. Childhood deaths declined. The rate of diarrhea, caused in some instances by dehydration or bacterial infection, also declined. Nonetheless, these rates remain too high to relieve concerns and the situation is still described as dire.

Malnutrition affects a child’s developing brain, impacting education and reducing the ability of a person to lift themselves out of poverty.

Sesame Street’s Rohingya Muppets

The majority of humanitarian funding is deployed to address acute effects of poverty like stunting and malnutrition. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing on education and intellectual development. Sherrie Westin is the president of social impact for Sesame Workshop and she identified that “less than 3% of all aid is used for education.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets consist of two characters, Noor Yasmin and Aziz, to connect with Rohingya children on an intellectual and emotional level. Westin feels that without intervention by Sesame Street, Rohingya children risk growing up unable to read and write or do simple math.

Westin cited scientific research as the basis for her concern. Similar to the way inadequate dietary nutrition and disease lead to physical stunting, stress and trauma stunt brain development. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by providing emotional and intellectual support to Rohingya children who have endured trauma.

BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Lab

In Bangladesh, Sesame Street partnered with BRAC. BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Labs are designed to help children learn through play and recover from emotional trauma in the process. BRAC designs its play labs to resemble settings that are familiar to the children it works with. In Bangladesh, this means that Rohingya children are surrounded by “motifs and paintings significant to Rohingya culture.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets reflect an integral part of BRAC’s approach. Children relate best to characters that they can identify with and they flourish in settings that are familiar and comfortable. BRAC’s success speaks for itself. Close to 90% of the kids that BRAC works with complete the fifth grade of schooling.

Sesame Street Addresses Rohingya Poverty

While the humanitarian crisis among Rohingya refugees is ongoing, recognition of the long-term effects of stress and trauma on intellectual development is crucial to lifting the Rohingya out of poverty. Education alleviates poverty and negating the effects of trauma will allow for proper intellectual development to take on educational endeavors. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing its attention on the intellectual development of Rohingya children.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

The children’s educational television program Sesame Street first aired in 1969. Since then it has expanded to more than 150 countries. The Sesame Workshop aims to create region-specific programs; last year the company introduced a puppet named “Zari” to its Afghanistan program to promote messages of female empowerment. The newest project, a collaboration with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), will create a Sesame Street program for refugees.

The Sesame Workshop and the IRC announced plans to create a holistic education program accessible to children in refugee camps. This Sesame Street program for refugees was recently named one of eight semifinalists for the MacArthur Foundation 100&Change grant, which would provide $100 million for the development and execution of the project.

This programming aims specifically at refugee children and families from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and northern Iraq — all areas where children have been exposed to high levels of violence. These children are at risk for low levels of academic achievement, unemployment, depression and violence. They also have grown up in high-stress environments and deal with the emotional struggle that arises from displacement. The Sesame Street program for refugees aims to tackle not only educational learning but also focuses on continuing to build resiliency in children and reduce the mental and emotional damage arising from life as a refugee.

The Sesame Workshop does extensive research for show development. With the IRC, the company is seeking guidance and expertise from other relief organizations such as UNICEF and World Vision, academic advisors and leading trauma experts. The workshop is also planning visits to refugee camps in Jordan. These visits to refugee camps will consist of focus groups of Syrian refugees. Children and their parents will watch drafts of content, engage with Arabic versions of the Sesame Street puppets and provide feedback for the project.

The program will not only focus on the experiences of children but also their parents. The goal of the program is to engage children, parents and caregivers by providing learning opportunities that are rooted in the needs and experiences of refugees. The program will be available through a variety of networks, including schools, community centers, radio, the internet and health clinics.

More than 12 million children involuntarily fled their homes and native country due to violence and war, and this number is expected to continue rising. The Sesame Street program for refugees provides a powerful way to negate the long-term effects conflict has on this vulnerable population.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr

Sesame Street
Sesame Street uses its influence to improve global health through its unwavering support of Youth Day and Global Goals — both of which are recognized by the United Nations — to encourage young children to act as voices of change.

Youth Day

Youth Day is celebrated on August 12, and this year’s theme is centered around the eradication of poverty and achieving sustainable consumption and production. Sustainable consumption means meeting Earth’s present and future needs by simply being aware of everyday actions that affect the planet and learning to minimize waste and pollution.

The beloved children’s show shared the following important message on Facebook: “With the help of our friends around the world, we hope children continue to be inspired and empowered to be the change they deserve!”

Iconic Sesame Street characters such as Big Bird and Elmo are pictured carrying signs that promote multiple Sustainable Development Goals like quality education, clean water, and sanitation.

Sesame Street and Sustainability

The U.N.’s list of Sustainable Development Goals comprises 17 other objectives including no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being. According to the U.N., these plans to transform the world can be met with the collective efforts of government authorities and regular individuals alike.

Sesame Workshop’s shows use media outlets for the greater good in more than 150 countries. Since it first aired in 1969, Sesame Street has aimed to give disadvantaged children equal opportunities through numerous educational outreach programs. Additionally, Muppet characters are created to address specific and relevant concerns.

One such character is Khokha — lead Muppet of Sesame Street coproduction Alam Simsim — is a model for girls’ education in Egypt. Another Muppet, Kami, is an HIV-positive Muppet living in South Africa. She destigmatizes HIV/AIDS by telling children that it is okay to touch someone affected by the disease.

With everyone working together, the reality of a brighter future is more than attainable. Sesame Street is drastically improving global health by getting involved and spreading the word about the need to care for the planet and its people.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

Educate Refugee children
At the May 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global nonprofit organization, entered into a partnership with the Sesame Workshop. They will work to bring quality TV content to help educate refugee children.

Out of the 60 million refugees in the world, approximately half are small children. However, preschool services are incredibly rare in refugee camps, leaving young children idle. Whether it be due to bombings, war or the death of a loved one, refugee children are not given the tools necessary to confront such harsh circumstances.

The Sesame Workshop will use its seasoned experience in child entertainment to promote valuable skills. This workshop will also help refugee children cope with hard times. As with all of their content, this Sesame Street program will also be accessible to adults. The program plans to strengthen the children’s experience by including their parents.

The IRC is a longstanding organization that dedicates itself to global emergency response and aid in areas like health, safety and education. The group formed in 1933 with the help of Albert Einstein. Since then, the Committee has helped over 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities. The IRC plans to establish the Sesame Workshop’s content in schools, refugee camps and areas of conflict.

Sesame Street has also created child-friendly content in countries like Israel, Palestine, Kosovo, South Africa and Bangladesh. They also broadcast in other areas plagued by conflict. These international versions of Sesame Street aim to educate children in developing and war-torn countries. They also broadcast in other areas plagued by conflict. These international versions of Sesame Street aim to educate children in developing and war-torn countries.

The refugee program will feature Sesame Street’s regular stars like Elmo, as well as new characters. Zari, a young girl from Afghanistan, is one such new character. As the first Afghan Muppet, Zari works to empower young girls and to promote girls’ access to education in places lacking in opportunities.

A test run of the program was launched in March 2016 at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Pilots for the program have also been scheduled in regions near Syria and possibly East Africa.  Ultimately, the IRC and the Sesame Workshop refugee program hope not only to make an impact on refugee aid but also to spur the creation of similar programs that will further educate refugee children.

– Jenna Salisbury

Photo: Flickr

Afghanistan's Sesame StreetAfghanistan’s Sesame Street is debuting its first Afghan Muppet character, who just happens to be a girl.

According to PBS Newshour, although Afghanistan’s Sesame Street has been running for about five years, it has mostly included international versions dubbed into local languages, with only short sequences filmed locally.

The character is a six-year-old with multi-colored hair, wearing a headscarf with her school uniform, reported the New York Times. The debut of a female character is noteworthy for Afghanistan, where women’s rights are strictly curtailed.

Also notable is the extremely low rates of both education and literacy for girls in Afghanistan, with 85 percent of girls receiving now formal schooling, and a literacy rate of 24 percent, reported Newshour.

Under these circumstances, having a bright and curious female character like Zari debut to audiences in Afghanistan is a positive step. The Huffington Post reports that Afghanistan’s Sesame Street is the most watched show by young children in the country. Sesame Workshop, the non-profit that produces Sesame Street, recorded that 81 percent of children aged three to seven have seen it.

Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy, spoke to Reuters about her excitement in introducing a female character. She thinks she may just have the power to change some minds, including fathers’ attitudes about educating daughters.

Westin told Reuters, “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.”

Specifically, Zari will appear in segments about health, exercise and well-being, reported the Huffington Post. One segment will feature Zari visiting her doctor for a check-up, and asking how she can become a doctor herself. Zari will interview various kinds of professionals for the show.

She will also speak directly to viewers and interact with kids in person on the show, said the New York Times.

According to Huffington Post, Sesame Workshop is working with the Afghan education ministry to try to reduce any resistance to the notion of an empowered female character on a popular children’s show.

Sesame Street changed attitudes in the U.S. when it debuted almost 40 years ago. As Westin told Reuters, “Part of the power of the broadcast and Zari’s potential as a role model is to reach children and parents where they may not have access to other educational content.”

Katherine Hamblen

Photo: Flickr

The United Nations Messenger of Peace, Lang Lang, recently spent all day at a school in Beijing playing with kindergarten children. There, he shot a public service announcement with Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. All of this activity arose out of Lang Lang’s commitment to UNICEF’s early childhood development campaign.

UNICEF is advocating for worldwide early childhood development to be prioritized in the post-2015 international development agenda. Early childhood development is a key area of focus that could help bring improvements to countless other sectors.

Lang Lang is also a renowned pianist. By spending time with the children, Lang Lang was able to see firsthand how this Chinese model has used a combination of music, as well as creative art and play, to teach children ages 6 to 10.

Lang Lang compared the earliest years of a child’s life to early morning piano practice. It is easiest to remember a piano score first thing in the morning, with a fresh brain. In the same way, for young children, the early years are when learning first begins taking place. With time, the child’s worldview begins to take shape.

An estimated one in three children under the age of five in low- and middle-income countries are not reaching their full development. Evidence has shown that the quality of one’s early childhood is critical in shaping one’s lifetime development and happiness.

There are long-term consequences of early childhood development or the lack thereof. Chen Xuefeng, UNICEF China’s Early Childhood Development Specialist, points out that focusing on early childhood developmental improvements could help to break the cycle of poverty and build a more stable society.

The estimated returns on investment in early childhood care and education for disadvantaged children can be as high as 1:17. These numbers show that concentrated effort in this particular area is one of the most cost-effective strategies for reducing economic disparity.

China recently participated in a global meeting in South Korea called the World Education Forum. At this international meeting, the Declaration on Education 2030 was adopted, symbolizing the country’s commitment to make education a major focus in the 2015 agenda.

As September gets closer and the new Sustainable Development Goals must be set, the agenda focuses on areas that should be brought to the head of the discussion table. In order to successfully tackle the bigger issue of poverty, problems in areas like education, health and governance must first be solved.

International cooperation will be absolutely necessary in order to achieve the ultimate anti-poverty goal. Even more importantly, it is through action alone that change can be made. While pledges to purge the world of poverty are noble and not without impact, actions undoubtedly always speak louder than words.

– Sarah Bernard

Sources: Look to the Stars, UNICEF
Photo: BBC News