First Afghan Puppet, Zari, Joins ‘Sesame Street’
Welcome, Zari, the newest addition to Sesame Street who premiered on the long-running children’s show last Thursday on Afghanistan’s local production of the show Baghch-e-Simsim (which translates as Sesame Garden). She’s a purple-skinned, orange-nosed, multi-color-haired 6-year-old Afghan girl, meant to represent the diversity of Afghanistan’s ethnicites and cultures. Zari wears a headscarf with her school uniform, although the uniform itself is pale blue (instead of the black of girls in Afghanistan — Sesame Street characters do not wear black).
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Zari is voiced by 20 year old Mansoora Shirzad, who is seen holding the puppet above her head and wishing viewers a happy World Peace Day and happy International Children’s Day for an upcoming episode. She believes that Zari will have a positive impact on Afghanistan’s kids
The team in Kabul which helped create Zari call her a “universal character.” Her name means “shimmering” in Afghanistan’s two official languages, Dari and Pashtu. While most characters on the show on non-gender specific, the team thought that it was important that this character was a woman to overcome the misogyny in the country that is often excused as part of the country’s cultural and religious heritage. The theme of this season, logically, is cultural identity and girl’s empowerment.
Although Zari is the first Afghan puppet, she is joining Sesame Street‘s existing multicultural line up, which includes Khokha in Egypt and HIV-positive Kami who have separate segments on their own national programs. Similarly, Zari, will have three segments. On one she will be on her own and on another she will interview people from a wide range of backgrounds (including women empowerment advocates), and on the last one, called “Zari Exercises,” she will perform basic exercises to encourage children to stay healthy. The aim is to educate her young viewers on the importance of studying and good health.
Even though most people don’t have television access, Sesame Garden is also broadcasted on the radio. The show, according to Clemence Quint, the program manager for Lapis Communications (the Afghan partner of the Sesame Street Workshop), has “the highest awareness among children’s television shows in Afghanistan, at 86 percent, and is cited by primary caregivers as children’s favorite program by far.”
Sesame street is working with the Afghan education ministry in hopes of avoiding cultural resistance to the puppet.