John Lucas Avatar Posted on 6/25/2008 by John Lucas

Kosovo versions of the Jim Henson's beloved Sesame Street help bridge ethnic divides around the world.

Written by John Lucas (editor-at-large)

P is for Patrazuar!

Jim Henson and his crew did a mighty fine thing when they introduced Muppet masterpiece Sesame Street to the world in 1969. The people and Muppets who walked that street helped to positively develop the minds and mindsets of the young children who watched the educational entertainment showcase. I would personally offer that this show helped to ease some of the ethnic tension that existed so strongly in America growing new generations of kids who were more willing to harmonize with their fellow humanoids rather than harm them. Besides, it gave young people an excuse to watch PBS more often. Lawrence Welk sure wasn’t cutting the mustard in that regard.

Well in the tense politically disputed land of Kosovo, the local version of Sesame Street may be similarly soothing ethnic friction between the Albanian and Serbian contingents. For the past 4 years, Sesame Workshop (the non-profit organization that produces Sesame Street here and around the world) has a version of Sesame Street in the region known to Albanians as “Rruga Sesam” and to Serbians as “Ulica Sezam”. The area’s ethnic divide between these groups is severe and they rarely interact with each other to the point where their children attend totally separate kindergartens, schools, and universities. The February 2008 declaration of independence of the Republic of Kosovo from the Republic of Serbia by the region’s Albanian majority (the 2nd declaration since 1990) is opposed by the claimant Serbs, the area’s largest population minority, only deepening modern and ancient wounds. Where measures by the adults fail, Sesame Street is helping the kiddies to come across that Great Canyon-like division according to the finds of a recent survey by Sesame Workshop and its local area partners.

This survey was organized among 536 children aged from 5 to 6 with half of the selected being watchers of either version of the program (Albanian or Serb) and the other half being those who did not watch. Of the ones who did watch their version of Sesame Street, 74% of them were more likely to demonstrate positive attitudes towards counterparts of different ethnic backgrounds as opposed to the non-watchers. The report shows that both Serb and Albanian children who watched the show “expressed greater willingness to help” kids from the opposite ethnicity than those who didn’t watch. It also showed that youngsters who watched the episodes were “more likely to see children of a distinct race/ethnicity as being similar to them, to express acceptance of a child that does not speak their language.”

Charlotte Cole of the Sesame Workshop expressed positivity on the study’s findings:

“These results give us hope that we are helping to provide Kosovo's pre-schoolers with the necessary tools to lead positive and more productive lives in their communities and beyond. Creating an effective, engaging and educational children's television series that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of children in a troubled region such as Kosovo takes creativity, humour, optimism and a strong understanding of local needs.”

Examples of the impact of the show are witnessed by the actions and words of a 7 year old Albanian boy named Jon Mulliqi and a 4 year old Serb girl named Ivana Jokismovic. Jon likes the show so much that he says he even watches the Serbian edition. Says the young Mulliqi, “I don't understand everything in Serbian, but I keep watching. Cookie Monster is my favorite. I even try to eat cookies like him.” Ivana hopes to be picked for a guest role in the next season, following in the footsteps of her 8 year old sister Angela who once appeared on the program showing off her secret to making strawberry jam. Says the 4-year old Jokismovic, “Maybe I will not make strawberry jam but something with pears.”

Jon’s mother Shpresa Mulliqi, a 45 year old doctor from Kosovo’s capital Pristina, said she was relieved when Sesame Street touched down in Kosovo for broadcast: “It’s a programme that fits with children aged from three to six, who were neglected by local TV producers.” That relief was cosigned by Ivana’s mother Mirjana Jokismovic, a health care administrator from Radevo—a Serbian-peopled village 10 kilometers south of capital Pristina: “Everyone around children is focused on politics, which is terrible. No-one pays attention to children's needs and the ‘Sesame Street’ series is just what they need.”

AND both parents also confirm that the show is having a beneficial effect on the grownups as well as the young’uns. Shpresa Mulliqi recounts, “It also affects adults, as three- or six-year-olds do not watch TV alone but with parents or relatives. They keep asking questions and give their comments, so we also become involved and affected by the show” Mirjana Jokismovic says in agreement, “It is better than listening to news headlines that go over and over again.”

Dobrila Jankovic, who runs a kindergarten in Gracanica - a Serb-peopled enclave near capital Pristina, said that one of the toughest tasks for her colleagues was to “keep children untouched from political events.” She says, “They watch television and in a way become participants of the process we are going through.” Jankovic by contrast underlines her point stressing that Sesame Street with its “language of play and love is the most important for children to overcome reluctance towards other (ethnic) groups.”

Perhaps a better point can’t be made about Sesame Street’s ability to bypass political difficulties than by looking at its effects on changing views on the local water preservation situation. Little Jon Mulliqi of the Albanians said he preferred an episode “when a lake fish called a boy who spent hours brushing his teeth over a continuously leaking tap.” He remembers back, “The fish told him: ‘Hey, if you go on like that I will remain without water’” Immediately upon watching the show with her son, Jon’s mother Shpresa thought of the consistent water shortages in capital Pristina. She admitted, “Seriously, I am ashamed of watering my flowers since that episode.”

God bless men who play with marionetted puppets! Please, can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?

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