Funded by a $20 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the American children's TV program "Sesame Street" is heading to Pakistan. Filming begins this summer, and the show is set to debut in the fall. It'll feature furry muppets speaking mostly Urdu instead of English, in a Pakistani village setting.
U.S. civilian aid to Pakistan has recently tripled to $1.5 billion a year, but that money -- invested in food aid, education and infrastructure -- has failed to woo all Pakistanis away from al-Qaida, anti-American sentiment or Islamic fundamentalism. So U.S. officials are taking a different approach, hoping that "Sesame Street" can instill education values in very young Pakistani children, arming them with the learning tools to fend off extremism later in life.
The show will air on Pakistani state television, PTV, and thus will be available in even the most remote villages with TV service. For those without, mobile TV vans will circulate the country, bringing "Sesame Street" to places without even electricity.
The format will be largely the same as the U.S. version, with each episode highlighting one letter and number for children to learn. Like the U.S. version, the program will also have strong female characters, with the subtle aim of promoting tolerance and gender equality. But it's not slated to touch on any political themes outright.
Ironically, word of "Sesame Street's" Pakistan debut comes as U.S. lawmakers debate possibly de-funding public broadcasting inside the United States.
"Sesame Street" also has co-productions in 30 other countries around the world, including Indonesia, Nigeria and South Africa.