“Sesame Street” moves to Nigeria

Greg Dunbar

It is hard to imagine being HIV positive. This issue, however, is almost commonplace in parts of the world. In some regions, children are subject to the disease. Some fall prey to the control and molestation of adults while, in other cases, these innocents are born helplessly with this affliction. The extreme amount of children in Nigeria with HIV, a staggering 220,000 according to avert.org, is what has prompted a disheartening, yet beautiful, event. It is disheartening in that the quantity of children with HIV has necessitated such a response. At the same time, it is beautiful in that it is possibly giving children a chance to gain confidence over their disease.

There is nothing as mind numbing as the realization of children being given a premature death sentence from the moment they are born. The makers of the timeless show “Sesame Street” understand this and, in support of the fight against AIDS, have produced a Nigerian adaptation of it. While the goals of the Nigerian program are similar to the American program’s, focusing on health and social issues as well as learning skills, the setting is vastly different to the version so nostalgic in the United States. Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind “Sesame Street,” is able to produce this Nigerian adaptation due to President Barack Obama’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief. A $3.3 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) enabled Sesame Workshop to produce the show for five years.

The main Muppet character of the new “Sesame Square” is named Kami, an adventurous young girl who is HIV positive. The joy that these children can take in the show is embodied in the image Kami delivers. Kami’s portrayal of child-like, innocent happiness, along with the earnest will to live as any normal child should, are what I believe offer the most reprieve to children viewing the show in Nigeria. Suffering from HIV themselves, a positively charged childhood character with similar conditions can be an effective method of psychological and overall help in dealing with the ailment.

This Nigerian adaptation of “Sesame Street” may give these children solace from their disease. It is also an opportunity for them to live without so much worry, as children in luckier settings are able. In any case, children need this type of positive environment to relate with as well as the education it offers. The reach of “Sesame Street” is becoming global as well, with versions planned to air in Bangladesh, Russia and South Africa. To some, this show may be considered a gross perversion of the American edition. I find its purpose is ultimately beneficial. Providing any sort of outreach to children with HIV, especially one as positive as “Sesame Street,” will only help. However, the makers of “Sesame Street” may have unwittingly created a conundrum. With the globalization of the show, there is less a need to ask someone if they can tell you how to get to Sesame Street. It can be found almost anywhere.

Greg Dunbar is a columnist for the Daily Evergreen at Washington State University.