Producers are betting the new character, a four-year-old boy dressed in a traditional clothes, will inspire millions of children and their parents to see the value in education.
Zeerak the bespectacled orange muppet is the latest innovation from Sesame Street in Afghanistan.
He reveres his educated older sister, and has been brought on to screens to show a new generation that a woman’s place is beyond the home.
Producers are betting the new character, a four-year-old boy dressed in a traditional South Asian long tunic and a waistcoat embroidered in Afghan national colours will inspire millions of children and their parents to see the value in education.
Zeerak’s big sister Zari, introduced last year with great fanfare as the first Afghan muppet to join internationally cherished characters such as Big Bird and Elmo, has already proved a success on the local version of Sesame Street, known as Baghch-e-Simsim.
Tolo TV which airs the show, believes introducing a boy, who adores and wants to emulate his school-going, older sibling, will “indirectly teach the kids to love their sisters” in a conservative, gender-segregated nation which traditionally has invested more in its sons.
Baghch-e-Simsim is the only programme on Afghan television dedicated to children and has a remarkable reach. A recent survey showed some 80 percent of children and parents with access to television watch the show.
Driving social change
The broadcaster is utilising everything it can to help change attitudes.
The new muppet Zeerak’s name means “smart” in Dari and Pashto, Afghanistan’s two official languages. And even his trendy, black-rimmed glasses were chosen for a reason.
One producer explains that wearing spectacles is seen as shameful for Afghan youngsters, so they wanted to address the issue and normalise it.
Across its global iterations, “Sesame Street” has made a point of inclusivity with its cast. Earlier this year, the American version debuted a character with autism, while in South Africa the programme features an HIV-positive muppet.
In Afghanistan, the show’s attention to equality extends to its casting, with two talented female puppeteers lending their voices to Zari and Zeerak.
Zari is by far the favourite character on the show in Afghanistan, according to the study commissioned by Tolo TV which surveyed some 1,500 children and their parents.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies