Say hello to the newest muppet on Sesame Street, Zeerak! He’s the four-year-old little brother of six-year-old Zari, a character introduced last year on Afghanistan’s version of Sesame Street, Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Zeerak, whose name in Afghanistan’s two official languages, Dari and Pashto, means “smart,” is making his debut this year. Zeerak’s introduction is a part of Sesame Workshop’s initiative to promote gender equality with a focus on empowering young girls in Afghanistan. Baghch-e-Simsim will focus on segments that show Zeerak’s admiration for his biggest role model: Zari, who wants to share her love of learning with her brother and can’t wait for him to go to school like her.
Zeerak’s introduction to the show is thanks to his sister’s popularity with fans—they just can’t get enough of her! The show, which premiered in 2011, hopes to help usher in a new generation of children in Afghanistan who will grow up with the idea that a woman can succeed and find value in life outside the home—specifically, through education. Afghanistan is a country that has traditionally been more invested in boys’ schooling, so pushing the value of education for girls to a young audience is a crucial step forward.
A study of Afghanistan by the National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Center reported that 66 percent of males and 37 percent of females between the ages of 15 and 24 were literate, with 45.5 percent of girls attending primary school and only 27 percent continuing to secondary school. Baghch-e-Simsim wants to change these numbers by inspiring children—and their parents—to get excited about learning and to let go of outdated ideas of girls and education.
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