Big Bird and the Cookie Monster have some new friends, but they’re a long way from “Sesame Street.”
One of America’s best-loved children’s shows, which began life on a fictional New York street over 40 years ago, is about to land in Nigeria under the title of “Sesame Square.
The show stars Kami, an adventorous blonde girl muppet who is HIV-positive; and Kobi, an energetic, furry, blue muppet who always gets in trouble and helps others learn from his mistakes.
In a country with a population of over 150 million, where nearly half are under the age of 14, the show will address some of the biggest challenges faced by young people in the region: AIDS, malaria, gender inequality, religious differences; as well as many positive aspects of Nigerian life. Zobi, is a character who has an obsessive love of yams (staple food in the Nigerian diet).
“We have a very focused health and hygiene umbrella concept area that we’re concentrating on,” Naila Farouky, senior director of international projects at Sesame Workshop, told CNN. “This is something our local advisors have prioritized; something that absolutely has to be addressed on the show.”
In one episode, Zobi gets tangled up in a mosquito net, much to the amusement of the local kids. But there’s an important message behind the antics; mosquito nets are the best way to prevent infection from malaria on a continent where, according to the World Health Organization, a child dies every 45 seconds due to infection.
There are also an estimated 278,000 HIV-positive children in Nigeria, according to the National Agency for Control of AIDS.
However, like its American predecessor, “Sesame Square” is not solely focused on health and social issues, but a host of essential learning skills.
Farouky told CNN, “The thread of the show continues to be about basic life skills: literacy, numeracy and pre-school education.”
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind “Sesame Street,” received a $3.3 million grant to produce the show for five years, from the U.S., Agency for International Development (USAID) and President Barack Obama’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief.
The Nigerian version of the show will be written by Nigerian screen writers.