Sesame Street’s HIV-positive muppet

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.

Join the Conversation

  • Emily

    This is why I love Sesame Street. I so wish she was a character here as well, it’s too bad that it’s not even something that could be considered. I tend to think we really underestimate children and what they can handle anyways.

  • Lilith Luffles

    Here’s the deal. I know HIV isn’t the easiest thing to catch, but when you don’t explain something to a child because it’s “adult,” how will they know what to do or how to react when it happens to them? Or a friend? Or someone else close to them? Why do Americans hide things from children that can happen to children? All this character is doing is trying to get children to be more accepting. I don’t see why that could be considered a bad thing by anybody.

  • cattrack2

    The US’ problem is that we’re too prudish. South Africa’s reality is that they can’t afford to be.

  • Teresa

    It’s sad that America’s Sesame street wouldn’t have a character like that. I remember watching a movie about a boy who had AIDS and was a hemopheliac (sp?) when I was in 6th or 7th grade. Why shouldn’t kids learn about HIV/AIDS at a younger age then when they’re hitting puberty? Afterall, they’re going to learn about it at some point.

  • Hershele Ostropoler

    Perhaps someone should tell the virus that AIDS isn’t appropriate for children. Then all the HIV-positive children and adults who were HIV-positive as children will be magically cured.

  • Véronique

    This is so beautiful and sad that it brings tears to my eyes. What a great way for kids to learn about a difficult — but completely appropriate — subject. Those who object must think no children are ever born with HIV, there are no issues of acceptance, and kids never have to deal with loss. What’s wrong with those people?

  • jumpcannon

    I don’t know why I stopped watching Sesame Street. Teared up and choked up a bit reading this. Thanks Vanessa =)

  • Jay

    i’m totally excited to hear about this character.
    when i was in college, i studied abroad in botswana. one of the projects we were assigned was going to a community-based organization and learning about the work they do. i spent a couple of days playing with kids in an orphanage who were about 3-7 years old. there is an entire generation of kids growing up in southern africa who have lost their parents to AIDS, and many of the kids are HIV positive. it’s been several years since i was there, but i’ve heard it said that about half of the kids who are becoming orphaned in southern africa had parents who died of AIDS. the orphanages are crowded and overflowing.
    good point that the problem in the U.S. needs to be recognized, too. but i’m still really happy to see this character. these children deserve to be recognized, and the global community needs to better respond.