There's just something about Sesame Street. The public broadcast kids' show, which has been airing since 1969, has always managed to keep a finger on the cultural pulse point in a way that felt like effortless education for kids. Whether the show was inserting clever little pop culture nods, or encouraging children to be inclusive simply by promoting inclusivity, the beloved series has always been just one step ahead of the rest of us. And so it continues. The newest Sesame Street character is all about empowerment, particularly for the children of Afghanistan (where he will be seen).
Zeerak, whose name translates to "smart" in both native languages of Afghanistan (Dari and Pashto) has just joined the cast of that country's version of Sesame Street. He joins the show, which is called Sesame Garden in Afghanistan (where it premiered in 2011), as the younger brother of 6-year-old Zari, the first ever Afghan muppet. The character of Zari has been especially important for young Afghan girls; she is defined by her kindness and her enthusiasm for education. Creators of the show are hopeful that Zari and Zeerak will help nurture and foster the belief that a woman can grow up in Afghanistan and become successful. Zari has already been wildly popular with fans, and adorable little Zeerak is sure to be a hit as well. His sister will likely be imparting her passion for learning on her 4-year-old little brother, making the message clear; both genders should have access to education.
According to a press release by Sesame Street, Season 6 of the show will look at the way boys should treat girls. Enter Zeerak. The curious and kind 4-year-old loves his big sister and can't wait to go to school with her some day. Which in itself is a kind of statement; 60 percent of children in Afghanistan do not attend school, and two-thirds of those children are girls.
Sherri Westin, Executive Vice President of Sesame Workshop, said in a statement:
We’re thrilled to welcome Zeerak into the Baghch-e-Simsim [Sesame Garden] family and continue our work to model the importance of girls’ education and bring critical early learning to millions of Afghan children. 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.
Through the years, Sesame Street has worked towards promoting cultural diversity and gender equity. Whether they were tackling racism, normalizing breastfeeding, introduced characters with physical or mental disabilities, or simply promoted compassion, the show has changed the way children have viewed the world for decades. And let's face it, they've been having a whole lot of fun doing it.
Would that we could all learn how to get to Sesame Street.