Afghan 'Sesame Street' adds girl power with first homegrown Muppet

Thu Apr 7, 2016 1:34pm EDT
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By Jill Serjeant

NEW YORK, (Reuters) - Egypt has Khokha, India has Chamki and now Afghanistan is getting its first home-grown "Sesame Street" Muppet - a six-year-old girl called Zari.

Zari, a curious and lively girl whose name means "shimmering" in the Dari and Pashto languages, makes her debut on Thursday on the "Baghch-e-Simsim" Afghan local co-production of the long-running U.S. educational TV show for pre-schoolers.

For a small girl, Zari has a big mission.

She's there to promote female empowerment in a nation where women and children were almost completely excluded from educational opportunities some 15 years ago, according to a 2014 United States Agency for International Development (USAID) report. Afghanistan now has about five million kids under the age of five, but about one-third of them are not in school.

Zari will be featured in "Sesame Street" segments about health, exercise and well-being, and will interview a doctor and other professionals to find out what she would need to do to become one herself.

"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," Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop's executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy, told Reuters.

"It's so powerful that the first Afghan Muppet is a girl," Westin added.

With her purple face and tangle of brown, blue and orange wool hair, Zari will wear clothes ranging from casual to traditional, and will be veiled where appropriate, said officials from Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind "Sesame Street."   Continued...

A Sesame Street Afghan muppet called Zari is seen in this handout image provided to Reuters on April 1, 2016.  REUTERS/Sesame Workshop/John E. Barrett/Handout via Reuters