Sesame Street’s Newest Muppet Is Ameera, A Disabled Refugee

The newest Muppet is green, hairy, loves science, uses a wheelchair and is a refugee. The character, named Ameera, debuts on Ahlan Simsim (translation: Welcome Sesame), the version of Sesame Street that airs in the Middle East and North Africa and focuses on issues faced by refugees. She is also part of a new animated series designed to be deployed quickly in a crisis situation when children are driven from their homes. A Ukrainian language version is now in development.

Around the world, an estimated 12 million people with disabilities have been forcibly displaced by war and persecution, although the actual number is likely higher. Many are children, and Ameera, who is 8 years old in the world of Muppets, helps to represent them. “We thought, let’s make a girl character that’s really funny and likes to star in comedy, and in a lot of ways is wise, and likes science and likes basketball,” said Scott Cameron, executive producer of international social impact at Sesame Workshop . “And let’s also represent all the kids around the world who may not see themselves on screen and who are using mobility aids — in this case, Ameera uses a wheelchair and forearm crutches.”

[Photo: courtesy Sesame Workshop]As a live-action doll, she will appear on the show with other Muppet refugee characters in scenes shot in Jordan, interacting with children living there. But in a series of short animated videos, she will be part of another show that will be used worldwide. “We’ve long wanted to find ways to create a really substantial amount of content that we could quickly deploy in crisis situations, just like what we’re seeing in Ukraine,” said Cameron.

[Photo: courtesy Sesame Workshop]To make the animated show universally accessible, the team only used furry characters like Ameera instead of more human-looking characters like Ernie or Bert. “Those characters are especially useful when we’re creating content that can be used in more than one context,” he says. “Because we don’t give them hairstyles, clothes and accessories that could be considered culture-specific, we can make them feel like they belong everywhere.”

The setting is a park that has also been carefully designed, with consultants from multiple countries, to look like it could be anywhere. For example, the sofas were designed after research from banks around the world. “The park bench in New York City looks very different from a park bench in Bangladesh,” Cameron notes. The team eventually drew a simple wooden bench. It’s a detail that few viewers will notice. But when kids around the world watch the show in tests, “they immediately see these characters as part of their neighborhood or their friends,” he says.

[Photo: courtesy Sesame Workshop]The animated show, called Watch, Play, Learn, presents early childhood education in subjects like math and science, along with social, emotional learning that can be especially relevant to a child in a refugee family, such as coping with anxiety and great emotions. Episodes deal with techniques such as breathing from your belly or ‘being a tree’, imitating a tree with roots to feel grounded. “When I think about dubbing those segments for children who have been expelled from Ukraine, I think this will immediately be helpful in helping them figure out how to communicate what they are feeling and how to deal with it,” said Cameron. .

About 2% of humanitarian aid goes to education and an even smaller percentage goes to early childhood education. The new show, with 140 episodes that can be quickly dubbed into new languages, can help fill that gap. “If you look at what is available for children in crisis situations, whether they are Ukrainian children or Syrian children or Afghan or Rohingya children. † † there’s very little, period,” says Cameron. “But there’s even less that has been specifically designed with really rigorous research and attention to cultural considerations and representations.” The new show, he thinks, “will have an outrageous impact.”


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