Today, I was deeply inspired by a five-year-old named Kami. Kami is a bright child who can read and speak well, loves nature, and has a caring heart.
Kami is an orphan.
She is also HIV-positive.
Where did I meet Kami? On Sesame Street! Well, on the South African and Tanzanian versions of Sesame Street.
Kami is one of the newest additions to the Muppet cast of Takalani Sesame (South Africa) and Kilimani Sesame (Tanzania). She is a cute orange character, rather like the American Sesame Street character Zoe, and the first preschool children’s television character that has HIV-positivity as one of her main character descriptions.
Globally, Human Immunosuppressive Virus (HIV), and the disease caused by the virus (AIDS), affects millions of children. Children themselves are infected, and/or their lives are indirectly affected when family members have HIV/AIDS. The majority of these children live in Africa, and many are orphaned because their parents died of AIDS.
The impact on children and adults who are HIV-positive goes beyond the physical hardships of the illness. Kids and adults alike are socially ostracised, and have to constantly deal with the emotional distress over deaths of family members by AIDS.
Kami the Muppet has the incredible role of raising this important issue of HIV/AIDS awareness and understanding among young children in South Africa and Tanzania. She is involved in stories that teach kids about HIV/AIDS, how to relate to HIV-positive children (e.g. “What do I do when you cut your finger?”), demonstrate ways for HIV-positive kids to cope with their difficulties (especially social and emotional), and cultivate positive attitudes among children towards others who are HIV-positive.
Here is Kami’s English-language appearance on American TV (although it sounds very scripted, I am heartened by the message of this video):
A recent study – “The role of Kilimani Sesame in the healthy development of Tanzanian preschool children” – found that kids’ knowledge of AIDS, and their own positive attitudes towards individuals with HIV/AIDS, increased significantly after watching the programme (Borzekowski & Macha, 2010). Kami certainly had an important role in this, because the study also found that kids who could remember the names of the characters had a higher level of knowledge and positive attitudes regarding HIV/AIDS (and of other diseases prevalent in Africa such as malaria).
I’d like to use this blog-post to commend the people who took this courageous step to address a topic that is largely “taboo”. Indeed, doing so on nothing less than a preschool children’s television programme, and in such an appropriate and creative manner. You are model Science Communicators.
How inspiring it is to know that Science Communication isn’t just about disseminating scientific information, but it has so much potential to do something more to change the world. Call me idealistic, but I reckon Muppets like Kami will go a long way in changing people’s awareness, understanding, and attitudes towards HIV/AIDS.
Science Communication GMH.
Borzekowski, D. L. G., & Macha, J. E. (2010). The role of Kilimani Sesame in the healthy development of Tanzanian preschool children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(4), 298-305. Retrieved 26 October 2011, from ScienceDirect.
Lim, M. (2002). A-B-C, 1-2-3, H-I-V: Sesame Street tackles AIDS. Virtual Mentor, 4(9), Retrieved 26 October 2011, from http://virtualmentor.ama-assn.org/2002/09/ebyt1-0209.html.