From creating programming to comfort traumatized and displaced children to encouraging parents to include their children in the census count, Sesame Workshop has continued to play its part in keeping parents and young children aware of social issues. Earlier this year in light of national protests and movements against racial injustice, Sesame Street teamed up with CNN to host a special 60-minute town hall on racism. Now, as part of Sesame Workshop’s Play to Learn humanitarian program, the show has partnered with nonprofit organizations to feature new characters to shed light on the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis.
Sesame Workshop announced the addition of two new muppets to the cast of Sesame Street on Dec.16. The characters, 6-year-old twins Noor and Aziz, live in the largest refugee camp in the world, located in Bangladesh. According to the news release, Cox’s Bazar, the camp where the children live, is home to more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees. Created to support children and families impacted by the Rohingya refugee crisis, the muppets are Rohingya Muslims who escaped ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. The muppet twins will appear alongside popular muppets, including Elmo, in educational programs about math, science, health, and other topics in the camps. They are expected to appear in all 150 countries that broadcast Sesame Street.
The muppet children will create awareness of the ongoing refugee crisis by not only speaking a language banned by Myanmar authorities, Rohingya, but by sharing their culture and ethnicity. The two are described by Sesame Workshop as curious and confident children who love to play, solve problems, and learn. According toThe New York Times, Sesame Workshop partnered with the LEGO Foundation, the International Rescue Committee, and BRAC, a Bangladesh-founded charity, to create this new curriculum.
“Investing in learning through play is even more crucial now, where thousands of children affected by the Rohingya refugee crisis, now face the additional unforeseen challenges posed by the global pandemic,” said Sarah Bouchie, chief impact officer at the LEGO Foundation.
“Noor and Aziz not only share similar experiences with many of the children who find themselves in this crisis, they will also help these young children to overcome trauma and stress, and build resilience, while engaging in fun play-based learning activities.
“Learning through play also helps children to develop the holistic skills, including creativity and social-emotional skills, which are vital to survive and thrive in this rapidly changing world,” Bouchie said.
Earlier this year, the United Nations classified the Rohingya community as one of the most persecuted communities in the world. Such representation not only sheds light on the violence the community has faced and the conditions in which they now live, but allows children impacted by this violence to have both educational and emotional resources from characters like them.
“They are among the most marginalized children on earth,” said Sherrie Westin, the president of social impact for Sesame Workshop. Westin traveled several times to the Rohingya refugee camps to help formulate the muppet twins’ characters and storylines.
“These are two very special Sesame Muppets — for most Rohingya children, Noor and Aziz will be the very first time that characters in media who look and sound like them,” Westin said. “Rooted in the rich Rohingya culture and informed by extensive research and input from Rohingya families, Noor and Aziz will bring the transformative power of playful learning to families at a time when it’s needed more than ever before.”
While the show will not and cannot completely depict the harsh realities that refugees live in today, it hopes to create more awareness of the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis and create a bridge between different cultures through learning.