SA’s HIV+ Muppet goes global

1 December 2003

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has appointed Kami, the HIV-positive Muppet who appears on the South African version of the children’s television programme Sesame Street, as its special advocate for children who have HIV/Aids or have become Aids orphans.

Kami’s first appearance with Unicef under this new collaboration was in Geneva on 26 November, when she helped launch the Unicef report Africa’s Orphaned Generations, which details the impact of HIV/Aids on children in Africa (see below).

Founded by the United Nations in 1946, Unicef has programmes for children in 158 countries and territories around the world. Sesame Workshop is the non-profit educational organisation behind Sesame Street, a programme for pre-schoolers that is broadcast in over 120 countries.

Kami with Unicef Executive Director Carol Bellamy. (Photo: Unicef)

“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.

“Kami will help promote age-appropriate messages concerning the humanisation, de-stigmatisation and acceptance of people living with HIV/Aids, and encourage an open discussion about issues such as coping with illness and loss”, said Sesame Workshop CEO Gary Knell.

Kami, a five-year-old, HIV-positive girl orphaned by Aids, has brought levity and compassion to a topic that so often evokes the opposite. The furry, yellow, half-metre-tall puppet first appeared on South Africa’s Takalani Sesame programme in 2002.

She participates in a variety of normal activities on the show, including exploring nature, collecting things and telling stories. But she also talks about issues related to HIV-positive children and Aids orphans in a way that three- to seven-year-olds can understand.

Kami and her human operator appeared at a news conference in Geneva on last week. Kami told her interviewer that she has lots and lots of friends on Takalani Sesame Street, but when she first arrived she had a tough time, just like other children with HIV often do.

Kami: At my school, at first children did not want to play with me because they thought they would catch HIV by just playing with me. But my friends Zuzu and Zikwe and Moshe told them. They talked to them and told them, “you cannot get HIV by just playing with me”.

Interviewer: And they believe you? And, now they act nice to you?

Kami: Oh, yes. They are very nice to me. We play together.

Interviewer: And do you hug and do you kiss? And is that nice?

Kami: Yes. I hug my friends and they hug me back.

Asked about her new role as Unicef’s global “champion for children”, Kami said: “I think I will be talking to the other people and tell them that they should not be mean to the people who are HIV-positive.”

Kami added that famous people like UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have become her friends, and have promised to help her spread her message around the world.

Interviewer: Do you think people have funny ideas about HIV-positive kids and adults that somehow or other they get wrong ideas about these people?

Kami: I think so. I think they have got wrong ideas because we are just the same, like the people who are not having HIV.

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

Aids orphan crisis looming
HIV/Aids is increasingly affecting the lives of very young children in the developing world, but especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, 800 000 children under the age of 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% in 1990 to 32% 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.

Source: United Nations Children’s Fund

Using SAinfo material Want to use this article in your publication or on your website?
See: Using SAinfo material