May 22, 2013

By Sara Lederman

From the Street to the ‘Galli’: A Story from Sesame Workshop India

Sara Lederman works in the International Projects group on the Workshop’s initiatives in Israel and India. She began at Sesame 3 years ago as an intern while she was a student at Barnard College. Sara will spend next year conducting research in India on a Fulbright Scholarship.

The American Street overflows with giggling faces, neighbors congregating on city stoops, and friends playing jump rope. Sunny days and furry faces fill the Street, the symbolic artery through which so much history and learning flows.

The Indian Galli (alleyway) explodes with color and pulses with a rhythmic drumbeats. A caravan of diverse faces cheers as it zooms past smiling pink and blue storefronts and a technicolor lion kicking a soccer ball. The Galli is a familiar scene, a fantastical heaven tucked away in the dense city.

Both of these streets tell stories – stories of childhood, stories of community, and stories of culture. As an intern at Sesame Workshop and an anthropology student, I wanted to explore these stories in my senior thesis.

After working at Sesame Workshop in Global Education, Research & Outreach as an intern for a year and with the encouragement of a wise mentor, I decided to apply for funding to support a summer of original ethnographic research in India. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I traded in my ninth summer at camp in Wisconsin to explore the life of Muppets on the other side of the world.

When my rickshaw rolled up to the door of Sesame Workshop India in New Delhi, it hit me: I was experiencing, firsthand, what so many people back in the New York office described as “the longest street in the world.” Sesame Workshop India, the only wholly-owned subsidiary of Sesame Workshop in the world, is a lean machine comprised of a bold, fast, sharp team. Not only does this thirty-odd person office drive the production of Galli Galli Sim Sim (the Indian co-production of Sesame Street) radio and television shows that reach over 90% of television-owning families, but they also collaborate with national early childhood education experts to organize policy-oriented advocacy. They also just recently launched a franchise of after-schools and pre-schools called Sesame Schoolhouse, the first of their kind. And if that isn’t enough, this tiny team makes serious dents in school readiness and hygiene educational needs in India, a country where, if all the children broke off and made their own country, they would be the third largest in the world.

After a few days in the office and with the help of the supportive Sesame Workshop India team, I quickly identified a feasible research plan. In 2011 Sesame Workshop India was developing a Healthy Habits radio program intended to be distributed to a number of community radio stations. This particular series was designed in installments in a way that allowed flexibility for local adaptations. When I was in Delhi they were just beginning to roll out this initiative in a sizable migrant labor community on the periphery of Gurgaon, a major satellite city of Delhi. The community radio station, Gurgaon Ki Awaaz, took the material and tailored it to the needs of its audience, playing folk music from Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh –many of the migrant laborers’ home states – and addressing issues that were specific to the community’s needs. And, taking full advantage of radio as a flexible and communicative medium, the community radio station engaged callers in conversation surrounding education, water, employment, and safety.

As I conducted interviews with mothers, kids, teachers, and radio producers it became clear to me: everyone wants to consume high-quality media that speaks to them and, perhaps even more importantly, everyone wants to speak. The Sesame material served as an inspiration for the The Galli Galli Sim Sim community radio program, which provided a safe, educational and accessible space for some of the most marginalized families in the world.

That’s a Street of which I am proud to be a part.

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