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About two weeks ago Julia and I attended the US Global Leadership Council’s annual conference. The day was filled with brilliant speakers, but in the end we both agreed that one of our favorites was Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Working shop. He discussed “Muppet Diplomacy”, the idea that through educational television we can develop nations and encourage a more positive relationship between the U.S. and other nations. As Julia mentioned in an earlier post, this was a refreshing viewpoint on a panel that mostly focused on the direct impact of development on business’ pockets (not so surprising since it was a panel on development’s economic impacts).

Sesame Workshop was founded thirty-eight years ago to help low income children in the U.S. prepare for school. The concept was simple: use television to address the developmental needs of children. Since then, the Sesame Street model has gone global. Sesame Workshop works with 18 countries (Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt ,France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Mexico, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Russia, South Africa ) on locally produced media following the Sesame model. Each production team involves the top educators, researchers, psychologists, child development experts, artists, writers and musicians in their respective countries. Today Sesame Street if the most researched show in history.

What is most interesting about this process is how local productions are using the Sesame model to talk about regionally relevant issues. Rechov Sumsum, the production in Israel features Arab-Israeli and Jewish- Israeli muppets living together in harmony. Alam Simsim, Egypt’s production features a bright young female muppet, Khokha, to promote the empowerment and education of young girls.

South Africa’s Takalani Sesame embodies the spirit of the “rainbow nation” and features muppets that speak with accents that reflect the diversity of the nation. Most notable is Kami, a young female muppet who is HIV positive. As South Africa continues to be devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the show is attempting to dispel the culture of silence and stigma surrounding the issue.

The name “Kami” comes from the Setswana word “Kamodelo” which means “acceptance.” Kami is a Read the rest of this entry »

“What have you done today to make you proud?”

Yvonna Chaka Chaka posed this question to the audience at an event I attended last week and it has been on my mind ever since.

The Global Health Council and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health hosted a film screening of The Motherland Tour- A Journey of African Women with Yvonne Chaka Chaka and discussion on the links between global health, development, gender and the Millennium Development Goals.  Speaking on these issues were Dr. Matthew Lunch (Director of the Global Program on Malaria at the Center for Communication Programs, CCP, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), Louis da Gama (Malaria Advocacy and Communications Director, Global Health Advocates), and Yvonna Chaka Chaka (Entertainer and Humanitarian).

The Motherland Tour documents Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s travels to meet with women across Africa and discuss the most pressing issues they face– including malaria, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, women’s empowerment, education, and poverty. The film features personal stories and women-lead grassroots efforts to tackle these issues. Although optimistic and uplifting, the film does not shy away from highlighting the gravity of the present situation. The narrator reminds the audience of the harsh realities.

Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds.

For rural populations the closest health clinic may be up to a four day walk away.

Most of these clinics are understaffed and under stocked.

In Sub-Saharan Africa over 24 million children and adults are estimated to be living with HIV.

After the screening, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Louis da Gama explained that they created this film with the intent of “giving voices to the voiceless.” They pointed out that leaders must be reminded of the women they are meant to be representing and who brought them into this world. They also stressed the need for programs focused on empowering women to help themselves. In Yvonne’s words, “I will hold your hand as you help yourself.” Her overall message is that “Africa has hope”, and that hope lies in empowering women (or Well Organized MEN as she joked).

Louis da Gama reminded the audience that just because the economy is in recession does not mean that HIV/AIDs, TB and malaria are also in recession. We need continued funding, to the Global Fund in particular, if there is to be any hope for the improvement of health conditions in Africa.

So back to the question. “What have you done today to make you proud?” Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Louis da Gama recommend that you contact your representatives to encourage them act boldly in support of global health funding. Here are some actions you can take today:

Sign this petition asking Obama to commit $6 billion to the Global Fund in the next three years.

Contact your member of Congress urging to honor the promise of $1 billion a year by supporting full funding for malaria.

Contact your members of Congress and urge them to continue exercising leadership on this critical issue.

Go ahead, make yourself proud!


It had started off simple enough.

Two weeks ago, still relatively new in my position as a Northeast Regional Coordinator with AIDemocracy, I spent a few hours trawling through Social Edge and twitter. With an eye on global development and security, my goal was to discover what was being done already in the non-profit world, who was doing it best and who among these folk were the most open to collaboration.

I made a number of new friends: the people at Acumen Fund, Water Charity (not to be confused with charity:water), Be Unreasonable, Sangam India, CORD and Open Society Institute were fantastic right off the bat– They were engaging, interested and human. It was like a Utopian first day at school.

In the context of my new job and projects I had in mind, I needed to know what was being done in terms of technology support for non-profit outreach and education services. One name that came up regularly was Ken Banks, founder of Kiwanja.net

I had heard of Kiwanja in passing before, but didn’t know much about it’s main project FrontlineSMS, otherwise known as \o/ (Which, btw, is a design based on this fantastic visual here).

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Before this Saturday, I had no idea who Ken Banks is as a person, and was as wary as a product of post-post-colonialism can be of anybody who does “non-profit work” in “Africa”. I was afraid I might run into yet another individual who’s working to “save Africa” just because that’s what Bono, the UN and everyone else is talking about right now.

[And if this is something that bothers you, Aid Watch has a great post on the issue here.]

I sent an email to Ken, one of those self-introduction/basic outline of project/can we chat sometime emails. You must remember that I moonlight as a writer: after all my experiences writing lit mag queries, I was prepared to face rejection or silence.

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A guest post by Patrick Cox, Global Peace & Security Advocate, University of Dallas, TX

When I had inquired into participating in my university’s International Day Festival, I discovered from the Office of International Student Services that I might very well be the only Persian on our small, private liberal arts university campus. I have yet to come across anyone else from a Persian background, so I guess my university has half of a Persian. Located near the Dallas Cowboys’ Texas Stadium in the suburb of Irving, the University of Dallas is a far cry from the consciously cosmopolitan atmosphere that I had been accustomed to at Boston University in my undergraduate years.

Held every spring in the center of campus, the International Day Festival is a meeting of cultures and a chance for members of the university community to explore other countries and their cultures and ethnic foods. This year, the Festival boasted booths with student representatives from Thailand, Latin America, Africa, India, the Arab World, and more, and it happened to fall on the day before Norouz, the Persian New Year. So, on March 19th, I packed my car with books on Iran, my laptop, an Iranian flag, Persian sweets, handcrafts, artwork, and other eye-catchers for the booth and headed to campus.

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Guest post from Ruhi Shamim

As a 2008 “Innovators in Cultural Diplomacy” fellow, an initiative brought to you by Americans for Informed Democracy (www.aidemocracy.org), I gained a deeper understanding of the current progressive Muslim American identity movement. While the identity issue at hand has personal significance to me as a Muslim American, it is my commitment to the bigger picture of an inclusive, diverse democracy that fuels my work in this field.

My initiative, “The Crescent Project” was developed in response to the need to organize the Muslim community on my campus based on a common principle of open dialogue that did not exclude self-identified Muslims who have diverse views, practices, and experiences. I reached out to upperclassmen who have achieved leadership positions in a variety of aspects of the university culture (athletics, student government, grassroots organizing, the arts, the sciences, etc..) and who also represent the diversity of the Muslim experience (Black Muslims, International Students, Shi’as, Sufis, Converts, Secular Muslims…) to create a network of support for incoming freshman who are negotiating identity questions upon arriving at college. We wanted to encourage Muslim youth to be engaged in the university community without being pigeon-holed as the token Muslim and without giving up their connection to the Muslim identity and heritage. Through this project, we created open dialogue for alternate views and a forum for active community engagement.

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