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‘Sesame Street’ comes to Afghanistan

Famous puppets try to help in efforts to rebuild country
/ Source: The Associated Press

The famous puppets of “Sesame Street” will help Afghanistan’s children overcome their country’s traumatic past, starring in videos to be shown in schools recovering from Taliban rule and decades of war.

The first of 400 education kits, with specially adapted programs featuring Big Bird and other characters, have been given to Afghan authorities, officials said.

“We need our children to have their eyes and their minds opened to new ideas,” said Sekander Giyam, an adviser to the Afghan minister of education.

The kits also will help Afghan teachers “move into a new century of education,” Giyam said in a statement released late Thursday.

Each kit contains 10 20-minute episodes made from material developed for Alam Simsim, an Egyptian adaptation of Sesame Street funded by the U.S. government.

For Afghanistan, the program has been dubbed in Dari, one of the country’s two main languages, and renamed “Koche Sesame.”

The Afghan government and aid groups are to distribute the kits to schools, orphanages and TV stations across the country, according to the Rand Corporation, a U.S.-based think tank helping organize the project with financial backing from Qatar.

The kits, which include a message from President Hamid Karzai, are a contribution to efforts by the Afghan government and international donors to restore the country’s shattered education system.

Thousands of classrooms are being built and repaired, and millions of children have returned to school, including girls barred from all education until the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The “Sesame Street” videos will “foster awareness of other cultures, highlight opportunities for girls and women, and increase student interest in education and career opportunities,” Rand said.

But it was unclear how many students they will reach, given that few schools or families in impoverished Afghanistan can afford video equipment, and many in the south and east of the country speak only Pashto language.

Three schools in the capital, Kabul, and seven others across the country will show the videos in a first phase, said Najiba Maram, another Education Ministry adviser.

Gary E. Knell, the president of program maker Sesame Workshop, said the initiative was a “first step” in promoting literacy, counting, sharing and cooperation in a country ravaged by conflict.

Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit educational group formerly known as the Children’s Television Workshop, has also produced programs for South Africa and Russia as well as Egypt.