Tough Pigs News Extra
updated September 29, 2002
South Africa's Sesame Street Gets HIV+ Muppet
Reuters -- Sept 17, 2002
by Brendan Boyle
reprinted entirely without permission
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (Reuters) -- South Africa's Sesame Street community welcomed a fluffy five-year-old orphan living with HIV Tuesday in the government's latest effort to stem the AIDS pandemic ravaging the country and the continent.
Education Minister Kader Asmal was the first outsider to hug Kami, a lively bear-like Muppet with a passion for nature, after her public debut at Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital, the only one in the country offering drug therapy for children with AIDS.
Guests saw a snippet of the first show in which Kami is invited to join the familiar Sesame Street characters at play.
"You're beautiful," says Zikwe, the big, blue, gravely-voiced kingpin of the show.
Asmal said the character, rejected last year as a member of the original US Sesame Street community, would join the local Takalani Sesame from September 30th to help children infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS to understand the disease. [ Note: Actually, that part about Kami being rejected by the US Sesame Street is surprisingly inaccurate; check out the GOP vs Sesame page for the actual story on the US Sesame. ]
Takalani means "be happy" in the local Venda language, and Kami's name is derived from the Tswana word for "acceptance."
Sesame Street is a pre-school television show based on the popular Muppets series and designed to help children prepare for school. "Education is the only socially acceptable vaccine available to our people and represents our only hope to save our nation," Asmal said in an address to funders and partners in the project. "We can't continue to have HIV positive children isolated, demonized, victimized. We want to make sure all of our children feel comfortable," he said.
The United Nations estimates 2.3 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in Africa last year, leaving hundreds of thousands of children orphaned. It estimates 28.1 million of the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS are in Africa and 4.8 million are in South Africa, where one in nine people are infected. Local AIDS activists say South African President Thabo Mbeki has undermined the campaign against the disease by questioning the link between HIV and AIDS. The state unsuccessfully fought demands for drugs to limit mother-to-child transmission to the country's highest court. Drugs to control the disease are freely available to those with medical insurance, but there is no state-funded anti-retroviral program for adults or children living with HIV/AIDS. The state-owned Groote Schuur hospital runs a foreign-funded pilot program treating children with AIDS.
Yvonne Kgame, general manager for education at the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation, said HIV/AIDS would become part of the environment of the television show, but not its focus. Kami would explain that she was born with HIV and that she has no parents, but lives with a loving foster mother, Kgame said.
HIV+ Muppet prompts licensing interest
Playthings Magazine -- Sept 25, 2002
by Lauren Beukes
reprinted entirely without permission
CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- According to Zikwe, a big blue monster with a gruff voice, the newest addition to South Africa's Takalani Sesame is "fun, smart and beautiful, and the other Muppets love to play with her." But the cheerful and fluffy Kami, who will begin appearing on the local version of Sesame Workshop's flagship children's TV series next Monday, Sept. 30, is also an HIV-positive orphan. She's already causing a sensation, not only in the press but among potential licensees too.
According to Jann Bekker at Nu Metro Licensing, a Johannesburg-based company overseeing the rights for Takalani Sesame, "We've had unbelievable interest since Kami's launch," she told Playthings Extra. "We're looking at the possibility of doing storybooks, a quick-serve restaurant promotion, a trading card game, puzzles, balls, chalkboards, plush, educational board games, consumables such as ice cream and possibly even clothing," she said.
Bekker explained that product would be sold through major South African toy retailers, like Toys R Us, as well as through supermarket chains, news agents and trade stores. She said that previously the biggest challenge to a plan of this magnitude was the high cost of importing merchandise. By the time goods reached the retailer, the selling price would put them out of reach of Takalani's target audience, which falls very much within the emerging market, she noted.
Now, the plan is to develop product locally, but not until Sesame Workshop repositions the brand.
According to Karen Gruenberg, executive vice president of content and operations for Sesame Workshop, "We are looking towards the future in terms of how to best use Kami in a way that marries up to the educational goals of the program. It's about how best we can make it bigger and louder so we really can impact the kids in a very positive way," she told Playthings Extra.
Kami, whose name means "acceptance" in Sotho, was introduced to Takalani Sesame, a co-production with Sesame Workshop, to help de-stigmatize the disease in a country where it's estimated that by 2015, 15 percent of all children under 15, will be orphaned by the AIDS epidemic -- just like Kami. The lessons in acceptance -- Kami gets lots of hugs and lives with a loving foster mother -- and loss will be age-appropriate, and HIV will not become the main focus of the show.
For more information on Takalani Sesame, visit