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Sesame Street's Grows In The Middle East

Sesame Workshop and its partners in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine are committed to creating and providing positive media content for children in the Middle East through three localized SESAME STREET co-productions. These series, promoting girls' education, boys' empowerment and respect and understanding, will each be back in production or launching new shows in 2007.

"Sesame Workshop is involved in a long-term process that involves capacity building, developing relationships and helping to contribute to every child's educational future," said Gary E. Knell, president/ceo of Sesame Workshop. "While it's impractical to think that one or even three TV series will solve world issues, we do know the power of media to effect change. It is through the dedication and vision of our production partners that we've developed sincerely curious and humorous Muppet characters who are not unlike the shows' viewers. Children are learning that they can play a role in their own community and beyond."

Egypt's ALAM SIMSIM, co-produced with Al Karma Edutainment (Cairo) and airing on ETV, will be celebrating its landmark 10th anniversary next year. The award winning Egyptian series goes back into studio in February for the filming of 60 half-hour episodes. ALAM SIMSIM will continue to explore issues related to girls' education and health and hygiene.

Impact studies conducted in the past found that through exposure to the implicit and explicit messages presented in the Egyptian television series and outreach materials, children's literacy and math skills improved, as did their health and hygiene practices; viewing the program was also associated with a greater sense of gender equity. In addition, parents who viewed the series and engaged with the educational outreach initiative displayed modifications in their parenting styles and attitudes toward children. Additional studies indicate that ALAM SIMSIM is meeting its goal of reaching young children who have limited access to education, with more than 85% awareness of the series in rural areas, and more than 90% of children in urban areas viewing it.

Funding for ALAM SIMSIM is provided by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Ministry of Education and under the Ministry's supervision.

February also sees the launch of season two of Jordan's HIKAYAT SIMSIM, co-produced with Jordan Pioneers and airing on JTV. This season of 26 half-hour episodes treats viewers to a return of the Jordanian Muppet characters Tonton and Juljul, as well as to their avuncular confidant, Jiddo Simsim, or "Grandpa Sesame." The new season features an expanded set where the characters will offer engaging messages about girls' education, early literacy development, appreciation for diversity and cultural pride. An extensive outreach campaign will include the distribution of educational resources to formal and informal educational settings throughout Jordan.

Funding for HIKAYAT SIMSIM is provided by USAID.

In Palestine, SHARA'A SIMSIM, co-produced with Al Quds University in Ramallah, is slated to air on the 10 channels of the Ma'an Network throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The new season begins studio production this month and continues through January 2007. This season, which will be accompanied by an educational outreach campaign, will feature a new set that now includes a Fix-It shop run by Salim, a new male character in his early 20's. Beloved Palestinian Muppet characters Haneen, a five-year-old learning how to count and read, and Kareem, a 7-year-old rooster, who is organized, tidy, timely, and traditional, return to SHARA'A SIMSIM. The new season responds directly to the needs of Palestinian children by focusing on boys' empowerment and introducing the character of Salim, who will serve as a positive role model for young children.

Funding for SHARA'A SIMSIM is provided by Al Habtoor Engineering, Al Hikma Pharmaceuticals, Government of Canada, Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ford Foundation and UNESCO in partnership with The Spanish Agency for International Co-operation.

"The television series and its outreach materials aim to help cultivate a generation of children, both boys and girls, who will love learning," said Knell. "As importantly, they will help children develop a sense of self-pride and respect and understanding for their culture and for others."

Sesame Workshop also works with local animation production companies to produced animated segments for the various localized versions of SESAME STREET.

The international adaptation of SESAME STREET began in the early 1970s, and programming in the Middle East began in Kuwait in 1979, with IFTAH YA SIMSIM, the first SESAME STREET co-production in Arabic.

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Rick DeMott
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