(Part three of a posting series about my father.)
A few weeks ago at BlogHer, I was lucky enough to meet the wonderful and furry Grover monster from Sesame Street. Big wig Hollywood stars, step aside. Brangelina? Whatever. I met Grover and I was so honored. I thought about what an affect Sesame Street had on my life growing up and, now, my children’s lives. You can moan all you want about how children shouldn’t be watching television but Sesame Street is a time-honored, educational family tradition in this household.
But after I met Grover, I go to thinking about my father. Over a year ago, he had found himself working with the USAID team in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. There are endless issues in this country that USAID has been working to address (bird flu, flood and disaster management, over-population). But there was one program that particularly caught my attention, of course. USAID was (and still is) funding the Bangladesh version of Sesame Street or alternately known there as Sisimpur.
Now again, some of you nay-sayers might comment that maybe bringing television to children in Bangladesh is not such a good idea. Perhaps it has a “westernized” bias and we are just putting our values on another country’s children. Well, here’s the fascinating thing about Sisimpur. Sure, it covers educational concepts aimed at children in their pre-school years. But it also covers issues, Bangladeshi-specific issues, far beyond just your ABCs and 123s. Asarul Islam Chowdhury is an economics professor at Jahangirnagar University and North South University, also a writer for the Forum, a publication of The Daily Star. Chowdhury says the following (please read the rest of this article here ):
Sisimpur provides children with basic education on health, hygiene, nutrition, and safety. Children appreciate the importance of brushing their teeth and washing their hands. They discover how physical exercise is important, but so is also getting enough rest. Children find out the importance of vitamins, proteins and other food components and their sources in common and affordable fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Diversity points towards tolerance and respect to others. Children are exposed to urban and rural communities across different occupations. Children come to know we live in a society where racial, religious and ethnic traditions and values of families are different. Accepting and appreciating these differences is one area where Sisimpur places special emphasis. Art, culture and heritage of Bangladesh and the outside world are the “final frontiers” of Sisimpur’s educational goals. Children are exposed to both Bangladeshi and non-Bangladeshi forms of art and culture. They are also exposed to music, song, dances. The imaginary world of Sisimpur is the platform for children. The whole world is their stage.
During his time there, my father noted that when it is time for Sisumpur, every television in Dhaka is tuned in. Work and play come to a halt, adults and children gather and watch the entire episode. Unlike our country where Sesame Street is something to throw the kids in front of while you get the dishes done, Sisimpur is serious must-see TV, educating entire communities; not only do pre-school aged children benefit but so do their entire families.
(Sidebar: Shoot, what stops our country in it’s tracks to watch TV? American Idol. Too bad we, as an entire nation, couldn’t think to care about watching something that might actually be educational.)
And let’s not also forget the fact there is a large majority of children without access to schools or even television. Sisumpur, when they can see it, might be the only education they recieve. I couldn’t help but appreciate this story noted on the USAID website:
In an effort to reach children in remote areas, USAID-Bangladesh has partnered with Save the Children USA to produce and deploy a small fleet of flatbed cycle rickshaws that carry a TV, a DVD player, and a generator to villages that are not serviced by power lines or are otherwise limited in their ability to access Sisimpur. The rickshaw goes to each location once a week and draws a remarkable amount of viewers, sometimes with as many as 200 people gathering to watch the show.
There is certainly a part of me cringing. Yikes. The U.S. is carting in television to remote villages? God, what if they put on the wrong DVD and play Sponge Bob Square Pants – gag – let the brain-numbing affects of american television begin.
But no. That’s not what this is about. These kids hardly have the never-ending access to TV that ours do. Or the wealth of schools, money, books, libraries, resources, you name it. Sisimpur is bringing an important blend of education and cultural awareness to communities in Bangladesh. Sisimpur is doing exactly what public television strives to do in our own country by offering “the full spectrum of media to build knowledge and critical thinking; to empower children as citizens of their communities, nation and world.”
Clearly, I’ve drunk the PBS/USAID kool-aid on this one. So be it. This is an excellent program affecting families in Bangladesh so much more than our own Sesame street ever has or ever will.
To wrap this post up, I’ll just add that my father was lucky enough to visit the Sisimpur set (see pics above). He’s the ruddy faced, jolly looking guy in the glasses in the middle. (Full credit to my mother for taking these pictures also.) The puppeteers are extraordinarily talented and committed to their work. I think this statement from their producer says so much about the true efforts of this program. Please take a sec to read it, I was very impressed.
Sisimpur is not the only international version of Sesame Street. Check out other country’s programs here.
Can you tell me how to get to Sisumpur?