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South Asia

Popular cartoon character helps children cope with natural disasters

© UNICEF video
Meena, 8, is a popular cartoon character loved by children throughout South Asia.

By Kun Li

NEW YORK, 12 January 2006 – Meena is an eight-year-old cartoon character. She goes to school and lives with her family in a small village. Conceived and produced by UNICEF, Meena has appeared in more than 30 episodes that deal with topics including health and hygiene, the dangers of trafficking and children’s rights.

The latest episode, ‘Life Has Changed’, aims at helping children cope with natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake.

© UNICEF video
Shravan Suresh is the voice of Meena’s brother Raju.

“We know from our experience in all sorts of disasters, not just the tsunami, that children suffer tremendous psychological damage,” said Dr. Esther Guluma, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director in South Asia. “The Meena film and books, which were done with the help of the Japanese government, will help caregivers, teachers, parents, and communities understand how to deal with children as well as help the children understand their feelings after a disaster.”

In ‘Life Has Changed’ Meena meets a little girl, Neela, who is sad and withdrawn because she was separated from her family during an earthquake. Meena takes her home, talks to her and plays with her. Meena’s family also steps in to help find Neela’s family. Luckily, Neela is finally reunited with her parents.

© UNICEF video
Schoolgirls from Bangladesh watching a Meena cartoon on TV.

Today, Meena can be seen throughout South Asia, as well as in countries like Laos and Bhutan. The latest episode on dealing with disasters was developed with the help of children who experienced the tsunami. Their involvement was essential to teach other children about suffering, loss and fear in ways they can easily understand.

“I think the reason Meena is so popular, particularly with little children, is that it conveys the messages in a very subtle way,” explains Meena’s creator Ram Mohan. “The formula has been about 90 per cent entertainment and 10 per cent messages. The messages are beautifully sugar coated with a lot of humour and fun. The storytelling and characters are also very interesting.”

Meena is a good role model for children. She is determined to go to school and dares to confront the obstacles. “Meena says: ‘why don’t you send me to school? Why do you make me work so much?’ remarked a teacher from India. “Because Meena has the courage to ask such questions other girls are asking the same questions too.”




12 January 2006:
UNICEF Correspondent Sue Lee reports on a popular cartoon character Meena and how she helps children learn to deal with difficult issues.

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