How Sesame Street Tones Down for Afghanistan

How Sesame Street Tones Down for Afghanistan

Indian and Afghan producers of children’s TV favourite “Sesame Street” are brainstorming in a New Delhi office, swapping tips on how to make Big Bird and his fluffy pals palatable to local viewers.

As the show makes India a satellite hub for production and training, it is a chance for the Afghan producers to tap into their Indian peers’ six years of experience in balancing sensitivities in their own culturally and religiously diverse nation.

In doing so, the Afghans are working out how to avoid upsetting their own audiences in their quest to teach reading, writing and arithmetic in a conflict-torn country where only 50 percent of children attend school.

Hashimi notes that in his religiously conservative, warring country, the programme treads a fine line, and is unique as a show for young children there.

On this afternoon, ideas fly thick and fast as the Afghans and the Indians, along with producers from the US parent show, work on a plot showing a seven-year-old girl learning Afghanistan’s vigorous Attan national dance.

In the initial season, Afghan script writers feared parents might frown on encouraging children to dance — such activity is often seen as sexual in Afghanistan — so they got them to “exercise” instead.

But these writers figure they’ve found a way round by getting all the family to participate while the brother partnering his sister will send a message of “gender equity” in a country where girls rights are often severely curtailed.

Gender equality is also an important buzzword for programme makers in India where girls are often undervalued, which results in them getting less food, medical attention and schooling than boys.

Promoting acceptance of diversity is another priority, with the Afghans introducing children in different provinces to each other and the Indian programme-makers doing the same.

Both the Afghan and Indian programmes promote education with puppets wearing school uniforms to express the importance of education for both boys and girls.

The Indian show features a gutsy girl muppet who says: “Stay in school, study, work hard — there isn’t anything you can’t do.”

In Afghanistan, the programme sought to push the envelope a little last season.

But the show’s tried-and-tested formula of songs, letters and numbers presented by the vibrantly hued puppets is in abundance in both the shows.