Taking on a fearsome epidemic with a feisty Muppet who’s HIV positive.
Kami, the 5-year-old yellow, furry Muppet created for South Africa’s Takalani Sesame, loves to be part of the action — such as when playing the “train game,” in which everyone joins together and chugs along.
To play this game, of course, her friends have to touch her, and the sight of a Muppet who is HIV positive, linked together with other kids, playing and laughing, is the secret of her success.
While normalizing the face of HIV/AIDS, Kami provides a life-affirming antidote to the stigma that accompanies the disease. She also helps kids learn basic facts about how it is — and isn’t — transmitted, and models healthy ways to deal with grief and loss, such as creating a “memory box” filled with photos and mementos of her mom, who died of AIDS. Watch a Takalani Sesame video.
Kami has been a great source of inspiration and comfort to children such as Tamryn, a 9-year-old from Free State, the rural province at South Africa’s center. Both of Tamryn’s parents have AIDS. Tamryn speaks so easily about HIV/AIDS, so comfortably, without fear or a sense of stigma. Where does that come from?
“I learned it,” she explains, “from my parents; I learned it from Takalani Sesame; I learned it from Kami.” Kami is Tamryn’s “favorite, favorite, favorite” who “teaches me quite a lot.” Running through a long list, Tamryn gives special consideration to how Kami says that “sometimes when you’re ill, you mustn’t keep it a secret, you must tell people,” and “if someone is sad, you must cheer them up.”
Research makes clear that Tamryn isn’t the only one benefiting from Kami and the world’s first HIV/AIDS curriculum for children’s television. Takalani Sesame reaches nearly 70 percent of children in urban areas and just under 50 percent in rural ones. Children exposed to the series show substantial gains in HIV/AIDS knowledge and attitudes, and communication about the disease is significantly improved.
And, in fact, that’s one of the most remarkable things about Kami: She helped to break the culture of silence around HIV/AIDS that has prevented so many from seeking and receiving care. People of all ages have come to know and love Kami. And because of that, she’s provided kids and adults a way to talk about HIV and AIDS. That’s powerful medicine against a disease spread by silence, ignorance, and fear.
Sanlam Life Insurance Limited, Mai Family Foundation
- Children exposed to Takalani Sesame show measurable gains in HIV/AIDS knowledge and attitudes, including basic knowledge of the disease, blood safety, destigmatization, and coping with illness.1
- Viewers of Takalani Sesame’s companion television special, ”Talk to Me,” are twice as likely to talk with their children about HIV than non-viewers.2
- A national survey about HIV concluded that “although Takalani Sesame is primarily a children’s programme, it achieves high awareness across all age groups.”3
2 Health and Development Africa. (2005). Impact assessment of a new programming component on HIV/AIDS for Takalani Sesame, Johannesburg, South Africa.
3 Nelson Mandela Foundation (2005). South Africa National HIV Prevalence, HIV Incidence, Behavior and Communication Survey. Cape Town, South Africa: Human Sciences Research Council Press.
4 Takalani Sesame impact report. (2005).