Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch are playing their part in bridging the ethnic and linguistic divide in Kosovo, teaching tolerance to children in the Albanian-majority Serb province in a United Nations-backed project that adapts the world famous Sesame Street programme to local needs.
“With Rruga Sesam/Ulica Sezam, we aim to fill in the big educational gap at early ages,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) country chief Robert Fuderich said of the television programme, which uses the Albanian and Serb words for what is hoped to be a common street in a province that was torn apart by bitter ethnic fighting eight years ago.
With the help of Sesame Street, Kosovo’s Albanian and Serbian children are now exposed to each other’s language, culture and traditions.
The show, a joint initiative of UNICEF, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Swedish Agency for Development Cooperation (SIDA) and the Sesame Street Workshop, is the first locally produced educational media initiative in the area, and the first to provide children of diverse ethnic backgrounds with age-appropriate messages encouraging respect for each other.
“The new season of Sesame Street will reinforce the message to children and parents from different ethnic communities in Kosovo that there are children ‘on the other side of the hill’ who speak a different language and have different cultural traditions and beliefs,” Mr. Fuderich said of the latest 26 half-hour episodes that started last year.
Sesame Street Kosovo is based on existing segments from Sesame Workshop’s international library, combined with locally produced live action films that are incorporated into the television series. These two-minute films depict the everyday lives of children from a variety of backgrounds and provide a window through which viewers can learn about the traditions and experiences of others.
In addition, UNICEF is also producing a second round of outreach materials for use in a variety of learning environments to extend the educational messages of the series to Kosovo’s most remote areas.
The project began in December 2004 with 52 episodes dubbed into Albanian and Serbian. Outreach materials were produced and distributed in communities for home-based early childhood education activities. Particular focus was placed upon newly literate mothers who used the outreach materials with their children.
The UN has run Kosovo since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid ethnic fighting and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy for the province’s future status, Martti Ahtisaari, has proposed independence with an initial period of international supervision, decentralization and strong safeguards for minority rights.