The Afghan version of Sesame Street just got a new Muppet: Zari. Announced on Friday, Zari is an Afghan girl who joins Baghch-e-Simsim, the co-production of Sesame Street in Afghanistan. ("Baghch-e-Simsim" translates as "Sesame Garden," and "Zari" means "shimmering" in Dari and Pashto.)
Zari is a six-year-old girl, and she'll be featured in segments that focus on topics like "girls’ empowerment, national identity, physical health, and social and emotional wellbeing," according to a press statement from the Sesame Workshop. Some early segments focus on exercise, local greeting customs, and interviews with her doctor. "Debuting a confident, inquisitive, and sweet Afghan girl character is a perfect opportunity to engage both boys and girls with lessons supporting girls' empowerment and diversity appreciation as we aim to help all children in Afghanistan grow smarter, stronger, and kinder," said Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy with the Sesame Workshop.
As Baghch-e-Simsim enters its fifth season, Zari marks a major milestone for the local show. Baghch-e-Simsim is already tremendously popular with local kids, and it's the most-watched program among young children in Afghanistan, according to the Sesame Workshop. As its first native character, Zari's segments will join those featuring other Muppets, and her message (especially encouraging girls' education) is intended to reach children and families throughout the country. In Afghanistan, nearly a third of young children are not in school; the Sesame Workshop hopes that Zari, and the entirety of Baghch-e-Simsim, can help change that. Supporting that goal, Zari is carefully designed to be "universal," with an appearance that's not tied to a single ethnic group.
For more on how Sesame Street makes its global co-productions, check out the 2006 documentary The World According to Sesame Street. For more mental_floss coverage of Sesame Street, here are some highlights: The Sweetest Sesame Street Moment; Sesame Street Introduces Julia, a New Character With Autism; 13 Sesame Street Muppets That Make a Difference; and The Names of 34 International Sesame Street Co-Productions.