Since 2011, children in Afghanistan have found joy and learning through Baghch-e-Simsim, which translates to “Sesame Garden” in both Dari and Pashto, the two languages in which it is broadcast on TV and radio. The popular show engages children and caregivers alike, and audiences have fallen in love with Zari, the first local Sesame Muppet character, introduced in 2016. A kind and nurturing 6-year-old girl with a sharp mind and a knack for asking questions, Zari loves going to school, sports, and playing games with her friends. Last year, a younger brother for Zari joined the cast--Zeerak demonstrates his love for his sister, modeling boys’ respecting girls and advancing Baghch-e-Simsim’s work to promote gender equity.
Afghanistan has one of the youngest populations in the world, and making quality education for rapidly growing numbers of school-aged children is a top national priority. Baghch-e-Simsim delivers lessons of literacy, math, and life skills to millions of Afghan children, with special emphasis on girls’ education, mutual respect and understanding, diversity, and national identity. The program strives to meet children - even those with no access to TV or radio - wherever they are; community viewings and listening circles bring Baghch-e-Simsim to some of Afghanistan’s most remote rural locations.
A 2017 national survey shows that Baghch-e-Simsim is having a positive impact and reaching more children and families than ever. Zari, the most mentioned children’s TV character, is beloved by boys and girls, who are both vital in the effort to shift societal perceptions of girls and what they’re capable of. Over three million children ages 3-7 are tuning in, and more than 70% of parents and caregivers watch the program alongside children (research has shown that parent engagement with a child during viewing further increases learning outcomes). In a smaller study, children who watched the series regularly demonstrated greater gains in important basic academic skills, gender equity attitudes, and knowledge about emotions than non-viewers.