Noor and Aziz are six-year-old Rohingya Muslim twins who live in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh – the world’s largest refugee camp. They fled to Bangladesh to escape ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. They’re also muppets.
Earlier this month, the iconic “Sesame Street” children’s TV show creator, Sesame Workshop, announced that it will introduce Noor and Aziz as its newest muppet characters. With a more global outreach, Sesame Workshop, which operates in 150 countries, will feature the new characters alongside other more familiar muppets like Elmo and Louie in educational programs that will be shown in the refugee camps. The muppets will also speak the Rohingya language.
“Rooted in the rich Rohingya culture and informed by extensive research and input from Rohingya families,” read a press statement from Sesame Workshop, “Noor and Aziz will bring the transformational power of playful learning to families at a time when it is needed more than ever.”
Noor and Aziz will be introduced as new muppets under Sesame Workshop’s, “Play to Learn” program. This program works with organizations like the International Rescue Committee, the LEGO Foundation, and BRAC, a Bangladesh-founded charity. In doing so, the workshop can reach different families in their homes, community centers and play spaces.
The workshop also hopes to create playful learning opportunities it believes are essential to healthy educational and cognitive development. With this added component to the displaced children’s development, this provides a key alternative to the sole focus on survival through health and nutrition.
Building joyful and playful content for children in these camps will help offset the “negative effects of trauma they’ve experienced,” Sherrie Westin – Sesame Workshop’s president of social impact – said in an interview with Variety.
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As a result of the conflict, at least 730 children below the age of five were killed between August and September 2017, a survey by Doctors Without Borders found. The deaths occurred at the height of the brutal campaigns that drove over nearly a million Rohingya people from Myanmar.
Recognizing the recent violence experienced by the Rohingya, Sesame Workshop incorporated this history along with issues of post traumatic stress disorder into the muppets’ story lines. The girl character, Noor, is scared of loud noises, while the boy, Aziz, is afraid of the dark. Moreover, the workshop will reflect the fact that many Rohingya refugee children do not live with their biological parents; it will include Elmo’s parents as uncle-and-aunt figures for both Noor and Aziz.
This is not the first time that Sesame Workshop has rolled out an educational program for children affected by conflicts. In February 2020, the workshop launched Ahlan Simsim – “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic. The project also introduced two new muppets – Basma and Jad – alongside a mischievous little baby goat named Ma’zooza. It focused on building emotional coping mechanisms in traumatized children between the ages of three and eight displaced by the Syrian conflict.
“For most, this will be the first time that they can truly identify with the characters they’re seeing in story books and on-screen,” Westin argued.
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