As Miriam noted the other day that it’s Sesame Street’s 40th anniversary, Global Voices Online brings attention to one character in particular that is making a significant impact in efforts to destigmatize HIV and AIDS in South Africa – the world’s first HIV-positive muppet, Kami. Says Global Voices:
While Sesame Street is seen in over 140 countries, each version addresses local issues and has different Muppets. Golden-yellow Kami made her debut on the South African Sesame Street co-production, called Takalani Sesame, in 2002 in response to the country’s HIV/AIDS problem. The world’s first HIV-positive Muppet, she helps educate kids about the disease and confronts issues related to being HIV-positive. The name Kami is derived from the Setswana word “Kamogelo,” meaning “acceptance.”
She’s also a child, a 5-year old orphan nervously came onto Sesame Street, scared the other characters wouldn’t accept her – but they did with open arms. She informs viewers about the virus in easy-to-understand ways like showing folks that hugging someone with HIV is okay, as well as talks about coping and loss (as she lost her mother to HIV). She was also interviewed by Katie Couric, gave a message with Bill Clinton about HIV/AIDS and was named a UNICEF ambassador for children.
So we should have been surprised when folks in the U.S. were apparently up in arms about the character, saying she wasn’t appropriate for children, despite the fact that South Africa is – as Global Voices reminds us – believed to have the highest number of people with HIV in the world. This is not to mention that 280,000 are children and there are 1.4 million orphans in South Africa because of AIDS.
So the question of an HIV-positive muppet on the American version of Sesame Street? Pshhhh, it’s not even a question to be considered. But what folks don’t seem to recognize is – how ’bout that, people in the U.S. are living with HIV/AIDS too! This does come from a personal place of hope; my friend Ebony from high school was born with HIV. She was an orphan too. She had a wonderful life full of people who loved her, but if she maybe had Kami to grow up with, I don’t doubt that could have helped her childhood in a significant way.
For now, props to Sesame Street on their anniversary for addressing the reality of the world, and the reality of people’s lives.