Sesame Workshop Introduces New Afghan Muppet 'Zeerak'
Following last year's successful debut of the first Afghan Muppet, a 6-year-old girl named Zari, Sesame Workshop is proud to introduce Zeerak, her friendly and curious younger brother. Zeerak will appear in Season 6 of Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden), the local Afghan co-production of SESAME STREET. The introduction of Zeerak is a continuation of Baghch-e-Simsim's work to promote gender equity, and Season 6 will feature segments that model boys' respect for girls and show Zeerak's love for his big sister. As a young boy who aspires to go to school with his sister when he gets older, Zeerak can be a strong role model for children in a country where over 60% of children - two thirds of them girls - are not able to complete school.Since the project's premier in 2011, Baghch-e-Simsim has promoted early childhood development, literacy, and numeracy, with a focus on girls' empowerment, mutual respect and understanding, diversity, and national identity. The Baghch-e-Simsim TV and radio programs are available in both Dari and Pashto, Afghanistan's two official languages. Zeerak, which means "smart" and "talented" in both Dari and Pashto, will be featured in segments that tackle topics including tolerance, respect, and gender equity. An adorable orange Muppet with glasses and regional clothing, Zeerak is an energetic and eager 4-year-old who is learning how to read and count and loves painting and playing games with Zari. Zari adores her little brother, and Zeerak, in turn, looks up to Zari as a role model. In one segment called "Going to School," Zeerak eagerly awaits Zari's return from school and is excited to hear about her day. Zari explains that Zeerak will have the opportunity to go to school too someday, and that working hard in school will help him achieve his dreams. Zari encourages Zeerak to think about what he might become when he grows up, and offers to teach him a few lessons before he's ready to go to school himself. A January 2017 survey of over 1,500 parents and caregivers of children ages 3-7 across Afghanistan shows that Baghch-e-Simsim is having a positive impact and reaching more children and families than ever before. Zari was the most mentioned character when participants were asked to name children's TV characters, and she is beloved by both boys and girls, who together are vital in the effort to shift societal perceptions of girls and what they're capable of. Baghch-e-Simsim has 81% brand awareness among those surveyed and, among children who watch TV, over 80% report watching the program; 3.1 million children ages 3-7 are tuning in, up 45% from 2015. And Baghch-e-Simsim isn't only engaging children-more than 70% of parents and caregivers watch the program alongside children, with Baghch-e-Simsim surpassing other Afghan children's shows in terms of adult-child co-viewership. Research has shown that parent engagement with a child during viewing increases learning outcomes. "We're thrilled to welcome Zeerak into the Baghch-e-Simsim family and continue our work to model the importance of girls' education and bring critical early learning to millions of Afghan children," said Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy, Sesame Workshop. "We know children learn best when they can identify with characters, and research shows that Zari has been a powerful role model for boys and girls alike. The debut of Zeerak builds on the incredible impact we've seen Zari achieve over the past year."
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