Sesame Street is going full-steam ahead in Pakistan with a $20,000,000 grant from USAID, “the principal US agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms.” As the Toronto Star reported recently, USAID is providing massive funding for the ground-breaking and incredibly influential children’s show. Sesame Street was the first children’s show to use actual lab studies to measure viewer engagement, and in doing so, they created legions of young fans and indelible memories for all young North Americans. Recognizing the power of education and entertainment, Sesame Street slowly spread worldwide, taking time to ensure each series reflected local sensibilities while pushing boundaries and creating new role models and ideas for kids from Bangladesh (Sisimpur) to Germany (Sesamstrasse), from Israel (Rechov Sumsum) to Palestine (Shara’a Simsim) and beyond.
The careful respect for culture, sensitivity, and context (what people dismiss as “political correctness”) that is the hallmark of Sesame Workshop shows has led to incredible success and a strong hold over the hearts and minds of the kids – and parents – in the countries it has come to. When you watch a localized episode of Sesame Street, you can see and feel that it isn’t American cultural imperialism hidden under a smear of hummus - it’s genuinely of their land and their culture. They make such an effort to create an appropriate show, you can easily imagine that kids might be surprised to learn there’s an American version.
First airing August 15, 2006, Khul Ja Sim Sim, the Indian version of Sesame Street, was also shown in Pakistan. It has been renamed Galli Galli Sim Sim (street, street, sesame) in India and produced anew as Gali, Gali Hamara (street, street, ours; the repetition implies “every street”) in Pakistan. It won’t just be Urdu either – Gali, Gali Hamara will be dubbed into four more languages (Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, and Pashto) to vastly increase its reach and unique combination of love and learning. There’s nothing formal on the Sesame Workshop Around the World page (as of this writing) for Gali, Gali Hamara but I imagine once details are finalized we’ll see something soon. They’ve got their work cut out for them – 72 half-hour episodes are planned over four seasons. Fifty-two of them will be redubbed in the other languages mentioned above, and there will be special radio-only broadcasts aimed at mothers. The current expectation is for a July 2011 start. (The original USAID page from October 2010 is now a little outdated – the number of episodes has changed, they didn’t name the show, and they aim for an April 2011 start – but there’s still a large element of 600 live puppet performances and more for rural areas.) They won’t be addressing politics. They are pushing understanding, inspiration, tolerance, and respect. The emphasis on creating a genuine Pakistani experience is paramount – no hints of America are allowed, given how sensitive the region is to American influence.