Sesame Street has introduced its first Rohingya Muppets – Noor and Aziz, 6-year-old twins who will appear in educational videos shown in the world's largest refugee camp in Bangladesh.
At least 700,000 Rohingya refugees live in Cox's Bazar after fleeing persecution in Myanmar since a military crackdown that started in August 2017. Half of those living in the camp are children.
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation behind the children’s TV show, unveiled their newest characters on Thursday, highlighting their role in providing early education to children and families.
Noor, short for Noor Yasmin, is a curious and confident young girl who is constantly finding ways to understand her world. “No problem is too big for her to try to solve,” is how she is described.
Her brother Aziz has a creative streak, eager to perform and weave stories about kings, queens and animals. Though his imaginative mind may wander, Noor helps him focus. He also likes helping out with household chores.
The two siblings speak the Rohingya language.
“These are two very special Sesame Muppets – for most Rohingya children, Noor and Aziz will be the very first characters in media who look and sound like them,” Sherrie Westin, president of social impact for the Sesame Workshop, said.
She added that “extensive research and input from Rohingya families” were part of developing the Muppets and their stories. She has also travelled to the refugee camps as part of her work in creating the characters.
An ethnic and Muslim minority in Myanmar, the Rohingya people have been the target of systemic discrimination and violence in the South-East Asian country for decades. The military crackdown and subsequent mass departure in 2017 resulted in the deaths of at least 730 children under the age of 5, according to a survey by Doctors Without Borders.
The show by Sesame Workshop aims to help alleviate the stress and trauma faced by children and caregivers who have survived and endure in the camps.
Noor and Aziz will appear with other Sesame Street characters such as Elmo and Louie, Elmo's father. Through playful video segments, the show will explore subjects such as social-emotional learning, math, science, as well as health and safety.
It is not the first time that Sesame Workshop has developed an initiative for refugee children. Last year, an Arabic version of Sesame Street featuring main characters Jad and Basma was created for an educational learning programme aimed at reaching displaced children in Syria.
Currently, the refugees in Cox’s Bazaar are not only grappling with displacement, but the spread of the Covid-19. The first case of coronavirus in the camp was detected in May.
This month, authorities in Bangladesh have begun moving a group of 1,500 Rohingya people from Cox's Bazar to Bhasan Char, an island built to house refugees. Concerns from the UN have been raised about this plan, however, as living on the uninhabited island would make it more difficult for humanitarian agencies to reach the refugees.
The current ruling party in Myanmar, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, have yet to address plans for the Rohingya people’s right to return.