Aid agency will integrate Elmo, Cookie Monster, and other Sesame Street favorites into emotional recovery work with parents and children
June 22, 2010
Portland, OR–Mercy Corps and Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, have formed a partnership to bring engaging, educational programming to Haiti’s children. Sesame Workshop has dubbed one DVD featuring two Sesame Home Videos into Creole, and produced three short original films shot in Haiti specific to the country’s post-earthquake challenges. Mercy Corps will distribute at least 1,000 DVDs of this programming to schools, orphanages and other child-friendly facilities in the country.
“We are thrilled to work with Sesame Workshop to bring joy and learning to the children of Haiti,” said Mercy Corps’ Haiti Youth Program Manager Kyle Dietrich. “This partnership combines Sesame Workshop’s expertise developing outstanding content for children with Mercy Corps’ experience working with children and parents in post-disaster environments.”
The Sesame Street films provide entertainment and learning opportunities for children, and stress the importance of physical activity, healthy eating, teamwork, and play. Cinderelmo, starring Keri Russell, Kathy Najimy and Oliver Platt, follows the trials and tribulations of Elmo as he escapes from his evil stepmother and seeks true love with a princess. Happy Healthy Monsters features Wyclef Jean, India Arie, other celebrities and a host of Muppets promoting healthy, active lifestyles.
Accompanying the DVD releases are three live action films created by Sesame Workshop and the filmmaker Linda Costigan after the earthquake. The films, built around original footage shot in Haiti in partnership with a local production team, promote cooperation, self-esteem, creativity and hope. “Helping Hands” features children helping each other and adults in such activities as preparing food and pitching a tent; “I Am Haiti” reinforces the message that children will be key to Haiti’s recovery; and “Recycled Car” uses a metaphor of two young boys building a toy car to suggest that Haitians will build their country anew.
“For more than 40 years, Sesame Workshop has been providing children with educational lessons, loveable characters and messages of healing. Children in Haiti are in a terribly difficult situation, and they desperately need the normalcy, knowledge and inspiration our programs can provide,” explained Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop. “It is through the support and commitment of funders and partners that we are able to create and distribute this important content to children in need.”
This Sesame Street project in Haiti is made possible through generous grants from Connie and Bob Lurie and Motorola Foundation to Sesame Workshop.
Several focus groups of Haitian children and parents have viewed the films in the past few weeks, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “I think other kids would like it too and they would laugh a lot just like me!” said Jean Hubert Francois, age 8, who watched the film at Children’s Place (Plas Timoun), an arts therapy program in Port-au-Prince that was initiated by first lady of Haiti Elizabeth Préval shortly after the quake.
“This is a good television program!” commented Pierre-Paul Guilma, a parent whose child also attends Children’s Place. “It teaches our kids about the values that we as parents are also trying to teach them, like being helpful to their elders. It has great positive messages I think all Haitian kids should hear.”
Mercy Corps will distribute 1,000 DVDs of the films throughout Haiti, and may distribute up to 5,000 additional copies in the coming months. The DVDs will be sent to schools, orphanages, hospitals, health clinics, youth centers and beyond. The Sesame Street episodes are also being screened at Cinema Under the Stars (Sinema Anba Zetwal), a Mercy Corps-supported tour of interactive open-air events that use film, music, and skits to educate and entertain tens of thousands of Haitians in earthquake-affected areas.
The films will be integrated into Mercy Corps’ Comfort for Kids program, which trains parents and other caregivers to help children emotionally recover from the earthquake. Comfort for Kids is a key component of the Mercy Corps Haiti youth program which combines training for caregivers, workbooks for adults and children, open-air film events, as well as arts and sports-based youth development activities.
Comfort for Kids is part of Mercy Corps’ multi-faceted response to the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th. The organization has delivered emergency food supplies, enabled nearly 6,400 Haitians to earn much-needed income, and created drainage ditches, clean water systems and latrines. Mercy Corps is also providing income opportunities for people in Haiti’s Central Plateau, where hundreds of thousands fled after the earthquake.
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[A few of the pitches can be viewed here.]