Sesame Street to promote tolerance in volatile Pakistan

Sebastian Abbot

Sesame Street is coming to Pakistan but not as generations of Americans know it.

LAHORE, PAKISTAN – The TV show has a new cast of local characters led by a vivacious six-year-old girl named Rani who loves cricket and traditional Pakistani music. Her sidekick, Munna, is a five-year-old boy obsessed with numbers and banging away on Pakistani bongo drums, or tabla.

The U.S. is bankrolling the initiative with $20-million, hoping it will improve education in a country where one-third of primary school-age children are not in class. Washington also hopes the program will increase tolerance at a time when the influence of radical views is growing.

“One of the key goals of the show in Pakistan is to increase tolerance toward groups like women and ethnic minorities,” said Larry Dolan, who was the head education officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Pakistan until very recently.

The show, which started filming last week and will air at the end of November, was jointly developed by Sesame Workshop, the creator of the American series, and Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, a group in the Pakistani city of Lahore that has been staging puppet shows for more than three decades.

The American version of Sesame Street first aired in 1969, and the U.S. government has worked with the company since then to produce shows in about 20 foreign countries, including Muslim nations such as Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Perhaps nowhere else are the stakes as high as in Pakistan. The United States is worried that growing radicalization could one day destabilize the nuclear-armed country. Washington has committed to spend $7.5-billion in civilian aid in Pakistan over five years, despite accusations that the country is aiding insurgents in neighbouring Afghanistan. ……

Read more » THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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