A new Afghan muppet moves onto Sesame Street

The newest member of Sesame Street's international cast is Zari, an Afghan Muppet who wears traditional clothing from the country's different ethnic groups. (Photo from REUTERS/ John E. Barrett)
The newest member of Sesame Street’s international cast is Zari, an Afghan Muppet who wears traditional clothing from the country’s different ethnic groups. (Photo from REUTERS/ John E. Barrett)

Sesame Street unveiled its first Afghan puppet last week. Zari, age 6, will be added to the cast of characters in the show’s Afghan co-production Baghch-e-Simsima.

According to a press release, Zari’s goal is to teach viewers about girl’s empowerment and national identity, and is part of Sesame Workshop’s effort to resonate with viewers in the country.

The new puppet has multicolored hair and sometimes wears a headscarf, along with costumes that incorporate designs from a variety of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups, according to BBC News.

Zari, whose name means “shimmering,” will be brought to life by Afghan puppeteer Mansoora Shirzad.

The character will make her debut on the fifth season of Baghch-e-Simsim. It’s been on air since December 2011, and is one of more than a dozen international co-productions in places like Egypt, Nigeria, Norway and India that star classic muppets like Big Bird and Elmo, but sometimes add local characters like Zari.

With her emphasis on education and girls’ empowerment, Zari shares mutual goals with Sahar Education International, a Seattle organization that builds and supplies schools for girls in Afghanistan. Sahar has built 13 schools in the country since 2001, which serve more than 15 thousand students each year.

Dr. Shinkai Hakimi, a board member of Sahar, said Zari will serve as a role model for girls in Afghanistan.

“It’s a huge affirmation for them of being able to pursue whatever they want to be,” says Hakimi, who grew up watching Sesame Street herself.

Hakimi said that although work toward women’s empowerment in Afghanistan is far from over, the introduction of Zari is a step in the right direction. “The main thing is changing society’s perception of what women can do.”

This post has been updated to correct info on how many schools Sahar Education International has built in Afghanistan.

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