last night on PBS there was a special about Sesame Street and their global productions.
i had no idea they produced localized versions all around the world, especially in war-torn and developing countries, places where poverty and racism and disease run rampant. and when i say localized, i don’t mean that Big Bird gets dubbed over and everything looks the same. i mean that they send in teams to develop and film on-site, using local children, local music, local language, different puppets that reflect their surroundings, and, in addition to the Alphabet and 1-2-3′s, focus the content on what’s most important to teach the children where they are: the puppets on Sesame Street in Bangladesh discuss unexploded ordnance, in Kosovo the Serbian and Albanian puppets broach topics of racism, nationalism and genocide, and one of the puppets on the South African version had HIV and talked about her mother dying of AIDS, which caused a national controversy here in the U.S.
watching how hard the producers worked to develop these localized versions for these children who in many cases have no other means of education, sometimes putting themselves in very uncomfortable positions (getting the Serbs and the Albanians to be in one room together proved to be monumental) and even in the middle of conflicts and wars, all to try to get positive, educational television to children was really perspective-shifting. i never really even thought about how Sesame Street in the U.S. was revolutionary in the early 1970s, having a completely integrated cast and discussion topics like racism and sexism (in 2-4 year old terms), but UXO? AIDS? genocide? wow. kudos to PBS for funding these kinds of efforts and for realizing that, in some places, the children really are the only future some communities have, and reaching them, teaching them, is honestly of global importance.
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There are several things that we hope that people take from the film. Number one is reflected in a quote that Anu Gupta of Sesame Workshop said: “Children are not born haters, they are taught to hate.” We were so surprised to find three- and four-year-old Serbians and Albanians in Kosovo talking about each other with distrust and hatred.