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Muppets go to school in Kosovo in UN-backed effort to bridge ethnic divide

Muppets go to school in Kosovo in UN-backed effort to bridge ethnic divide

The Muppets are going to school in Kosovo in a new project to teach tolerance to children in the Albanian-majority Serb province, which the United Nations has run since Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops in 1999 amid ethnic fighting.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind the province’s Albanian and Serbian versions – Rruga Sesam and Ulica Sezam respectively – of the famed children’s television programme Sesame Street, have launched a series of story and picture books with Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch and the rest of the crew bringing a message of diversity and understanding.

Distribution began on Friday with children, parents and teachers in Pristina and Mitrovica kindergarten classrooms. The TV programme has already been on the air for some time, adapting its content to local needs.

“In a region rich with diversity, but challenged by conflict, our mission is to reach as many children as possible with meaningful content,” Albanian Content Director for Rruga Sesam Anita Pasha said of the new initiative. “Like the Rruga Sesam television series, the outreach materials are designed to better prepare them for school and encourage them to develop a lifelong love of learning.”

Serbian Content Director Jelena Ravnjak was equally enthusiastic. “Since Ulica Sezam debuted in Kosovo, teachers in Serbian regions have shared with us their need for relevant materials that present sensitive social-emotional lessons.

“The beauty of the Muppet characters resides in the fact that they’re multi-coloured, tall and short, wide and skinny, furry and feathered, and incredibly different from one another, yet all the same – learning to live and laugh together. We are thrilled to extend their reach from the television directly into the classrooms and homes.”

Sesame Workshop and UNICEF were joined by UNICEF’s Head of Office Robert Fuderich as well as local celebrities at the launch.

In Pristina, actress and UNICEF local Good Will Ambassador Yllka Gashi took part at the Albanian-language Gëzimi Ynë Kindergarten, while actress Zorica Jovanovic joined children and caregivers at the Serbian-language Danica Jaramaz Kindergarten in Mitrovica, each reading the new story book Dita Ime e Parë në Shkollë/Moj Prvi Dan u Skoli, or My First Day of School, to children in their respective classrooms.

All materials will be disseminated free of charge to preschools, family healthcare centres, women’s literacy centres in conjunction with women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based early childhood education centres and parent/teacher organizations. The materials include 30,000 storybooks and 30,000 picture books in Albanian, 5,000 of each in Serbian Cyrillic letters and 3,000 apiece in Serbian Latin letters.