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Press release

HIV-positive Muppet appointed as "Champion for Children"

© UNICEF/HQ03-0411/Sesame Workshop/John E Barrett
Kami – a furry, five-year-old HIV-positive girl Muppet orphaned by AIDS – appears regularly on Takalani Sesame, a South African co-production of Sesame Street.

NEW YORK/ GENEVA, 24 November 2003 - UNICEF today formally appointed Kami, the HIV-positive Muppet who appears regularly on the South African co-production of Sesame Street called Takalani Sesame, as a global “Champion for Children.”

Kami’s first appearance with UNICEF under this new collaboration will be in Geneva on 26 November, when she will help launch an important new UNICEF report, Africa’s Orphaned Generations, which details the impact of HIV/AIDS on children in Africa.

Founded by the United Nations in 1946, UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, with programs in 158 countries and territories around the world. 

Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organisation behind Sesame Street, and the world’s largest informal educator of preschool children. Its flagship programme, Sesame Street is broadcast in over 120 countries around the world. 

“The appeal of the partnership is that through characters like Kami, we can highlight areas where children are particularly vulnerable – from illiteracy to disability and abuse - in ways that are gentle, honest and compassionate,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said.

"All children deserve a chance to learn and grow, to better understand the world and each other, and to reach their highest potential," said Gary Knell, Sesame Workshop President and CEO. "Kami will help promote age-appropriate messages concerning the humanization, de-stigmatization and acceptance of people living with HIV/AIDS and encourage an open discussion about issues such as coping with illness and loss.  We’re honored that UNICEF has appointed Kami as a Champion for Children."

Kami has brought levity and compassion to a topic that so often evokes the opposite. On Takalani Sesame, the furry yellow Muppet, a five-year-old, HIV-positive girl orphaned by AIDS, confronts issues related to HIV-positive children in a way that three- to seven-year-olds can understand.

Takalani Sesame is brought to the Children in South Africa through a partnership with the Department of Education, United States Agency for International Development, Sanlam, SABC Education.  Takalani Sesame is produced by Kwasukasukela under the creative direction of Sesame Workshop and the South African partners.

HIV/AIDS is increasingly impacting the lives of very young children in the developing world, but especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, 800,000 children under age 15 became HIV-positive; the overwhelming majority were infected at birth and will die before they turn five.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces an orphan crisis of gargantuan proportions. HIV/AIDS killed about 2 million African adults in 2002. The percentage of the region’s orphans whose parents died from HIV/AIDS has grown from 3.5 percent in 1990 to 32 percent in 2001. By 2010, there will be approximately 20 million children in sub-Saharan Africa who have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS, bringing the total number of orphans in the region to 40 million.

UNICEF and Sesame Workshop have formalized a relationship to work together on projects ranging from literacy and health to fostering respect and understanding in regions in turmoil. A memorandum of understanding was signed today committing both organisations to identify broader initiatives for collaboration at both global and local levels to promote child development, health, education, and values of dignity, respect and tolerance – values and objectives the two organisations share.

“A partnership between UNICEF and Sesame Workshop couldn’t be more natural,” said Carol Bellamy. “Our common focus is on children around the world, who all share the same fundamental right to lives of dignity, peace and opportunity.”

For more information, please contact:

Liza Barrie, UNICEF New York,
Senior Communication Adviser, HIV/AIDS
(1-646) 207-5178; lbarrie@unicef.org

Marixie Mercado, UNICEF New York,
Press officer, HIV/AIDS
(1-646 263-1041; mmercado@unicef.org

Ellen Lewis Gideon, Sesame Workshop New York,
Vice President, Corporate Affairs
(1-212) 875-6396; ellen.lewis@sesameworkshop.org




Broadcaster's Note

A 10-minute UNICEF video news release highlighting some of the issues in the report will be fed on Reuters World News Service (all paths) from 0640 to 0650 GMT on 26 November 2003.

The video is loosely edited B-roll with natural sound and tells the story of Twelve-year-old Esther Wamboi.  Six years ago, Esther’s mother died of AIDS, and her father deserted the family. Esther became one of the 890,000 Kenyan children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

The script and shotlist is available with the feed from Reuters or on our video b-rolls page.

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