Posted on December 23, 2020

Sesame Street’s Newest Muppets Are Rohingya Refugees

Adele Peters, Fast Company, December 17, 2020

In a refugee camp in southeastern Bangladesh where nearly one million Rohingya refugees now live after fleeing from Myanmar, there’s little access to the internet or TV. But children there will still be able to enjoy the work of Sesame Street, and see their lives reflected in the two newest Muppet characters: twin six-year-old refugees named Noor and Aziz.

“We know that children learn best when they see themselves and they can identify with these characters,” says Sherrie Westin, president of social impact at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that makes Sesame Street. {snip}

Earlier this year, a new version of Sesame Street began airing in Jordan and Lebanon for children displaced by the war in Syria. In both the Middle East and Bangladesh, the programs, backed by a $100 million grant from the Lego Foundation, give kids access to educational tools when they might not be able to attend school. They also are designed to help children deal with the trauma they’ve experienced as refugees.

The Rohingya community in Myanmar has been persecuted for decades, but after a surge in attacks in 2017, hundreds of thousands of people fled the country. {snip}

The new Sesame Street characters address issues like how to deal with anxiety; in one storyline, the Muppets are playing under a table with a sheet draped over the top, and one of the characters becomes afraid of the dark. The other helps him calm down by breathing from his belly. {snip}

{snip} The characters, which were developed with close input from the Rohingya community in the camp, are another way to reach those kids. “We’re at a stage now where we feel like we can have something that really resonates, that they’ve never experienced before,” Westin says. “Most of these children will have never seen characters like themselves in media or content.”