Meet Zari: Afghanistan’s first female ‘Sesame Street’ character

By Sarah B. Boxer

She’s a groundbreaking celebrity in Afghanistan; at the ripe-old age of 6, she’s breaking down boundaries on television and speaking to children there about education, exercise and peace. She just made her silver screen debut and has already met with the country’s first lady.

She’s also … a muppet.

Meet Zari, the first female muppet on Afghanistan’s version of “Sesame Street.” The show is called “Baghch-e-Simsim.”

Though Zari speaks the main languages of Afghanistan, Dari and Pashto, on the show, she spoke in English during her first American interview, with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric.

“I love learning about other cultures, and other languages. It’s all just so interesting!” Zari told Couric.

Sesame Street has aired in Afghanistan since 2011 — funded in part by the U.S. State Department — but Zari is the first local character to hit the airwaves. Other muppets, like Ernie and Elmo, also appear on the show, but in dubbed voices. For the shows creators, it was important for the first Afghan muppet to be female, in large part due to Afghanistan’s very low literacy rate among young girls.

“In Afghanistan, there’s a large portion of girls who are not in school. In fact, it’s over two-thirds,” says Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy. “And this is a culture where girls often aren’t valued in the same way, aren’t given the same opportunities. And we know, through the power of little characters like Zari, that there’s a great ability to not only inspire young girls, but, I think equally important, is that we can model for young boys that it’s OK for a girl to have an education, and for women to have different roles and responsibilities.

Since Zari is based in Afghanistan, the interview with Couric was her first in the United States. When asked what she thought about New York, Zari replied, “I really like that you call this city the Big Apple.”

“Why?” asked Couric.

“I really like fruit!” the healthy-eating muppet explained.