Yams and mosquito nets on Nigeria's Sesame Street

Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:26am EDT
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By Yinka Ibukun

LAGOS (Reuters) - Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch have some new friends.

Meet Zobi, a yam-eating taxi driver, and Kami, a talkative five-year-old living with HIV.

"Sesame Street," the U.S. show which started 40 years ago on state-run television as an attempt to help underprivileged children learn, hits Nigeria next month with some uniquely West African twists and renamed "Sesame Square."

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and U.S. President Barack Obama's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Nigerian take on the hit series remains true to its educational roots.

"When we did the pilot, our focus was orphaned and vulnerable children and still is to a certain extent," said Ayobisi Osuntusa, head of educational outreach for the Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind Sesame Street.

In one episode, children on the set make fun of Zobi, an ageless blue muppet, as he gets wrapped up in a mosquito net. There's a serious message behind the silliness -- a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds in Africa and encouraging kids to sleep under a net is one of the best ways to save lives.

Kami, a talkative yellow ball of fur, is an orphan whose mother died of AIDS. Her stories teach children not only about blood safety, but about acceptance of those living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.

"A lot of the advocacy that is going on is among adults," said Agatha Nkiruka David, a consultant at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research in Lagos who runs a social club for HIV positive teenagers.   Continued...

<p>Sesame Street characters are seen during the 40th anniversary street naming celebration in New York, November 9, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>