"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change

the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."     - Margaret Mead

     This is about the greatness of human spirt, creativity, and determination in the Middle East.  And about help from "supportive others."
     For several years, in these darkest of times -- when it is almost "fashionable"  to give up on the "other" and blame "them" -- visionary Palestinian, Israeli, and Jordanian partners in television production have been  working together successfully  to create a new future of shared TV programming. 

    Three days ago -- Monday, October 27, 2003 -- Sesame Stories began sustained programming on major TV in all three countries.   
     This dream conceived by "thoughtful, dedicated citizens" was finally born before the eyes of tens of thousands of Middle Eastern families, broadcast on Jordan's JTV, Israel's Hop!TV and the Palestinian's The Ma'an Network.

      One sponsor, the European Union, says: "Building on the well-established Sesame Street model, these Sesame Stories aim to promote long-term respect and understanding in the Middle East among Palestinian, Israeli, and Jordanian children, in the belief that ignorance of others fuels the ongoing conflict in the region."
     The breakthrough educational media initiative presents rarely-seen positive images of each other, and gives children alternatives to violence when dealing with anger.

The story behind Sesame Stories

     Beatrice Chow is Director of Publicity for Sesame Workshop, the non-profit parent of both Sesame Stories and Sesame Street.
     On the phone from New York today, Bea said: "I can't tell you how happy everyone was when all programs got on the air for the first time Monday."
     She said that the 2-3 year process endured and overcame real hardships "because each producer was very passionate and determined."
     "It was very difficult for the producers and production teams from each country to meet.  And it involved sending to one another packages and tapes that would sometimes be intercepted by government agencies.  They had to meet in neutral, safe places, and rely on e-mail and telephones a lot."
     What does Sesame Stories mean to Beatrice Chow and her other media producers?  "Beyond teaching letters and numbers, we are opening children's minds toward their neighbors, other cultures, and the larger world around them."
     Bea herself was passionate: "The point is that the project in now completed as a testament to the hard work and determination of producers, writers, actors, funders -- Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Americans -- in politically challenging times."
     May this model of citizen creativity, courage, mobility, and commitment cause more Arabs and Jews to move toward each other and work together.
     Truly, together we're better.
                    -- L&L

Other stories -- and some streaming audio and video clips -- on the Web

Boston NPR
The European Union
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Tantara.de -- Dialogue with the Islamic World

Press Release

Educational Childrens Television Series and Comprehensive Outreach Initiative
Promotes Appreciation of Cultural Diversity

     (Brussels, Belgium and New York, NY, October 20, 2003)  In a press conference hosted today by the European Union (EU), the production teams of Sesame Stories, a bold new television production and outreach initiative that impacts children in the Middle East with positive images of themselves and their neighbors, will come together for the first time to discuss the challenges of developing this historic project.  Co-produced by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, the project aims to help lay the foundation for future stability, prosperity, and hope for peace in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine.
     At a time when television and other media are transmitting difficult news, Sesame Stories will encourage children to appreciate similarities and differences in their own culture and others.  Sesame Stories celebrates the diversity of the human experience and examines that diversity from within the childs own home and community, as well as in broader societal contexts.
     Based on the world-renowned childrens series Sesame Street, the centerpiece of each Sesame Stories episode is a tale chosen for its ability to illuminate the core themes of tolerance, child self-empowerment, empathy, and respect.  Sesame Stories, developed for children between the ages of four and seven, consists of three parallel series Hikayat Simsim (Jordan), Sippuray Sumsum (Israel), and Hikayat Simsim (Palestine) that were created, written, and produced by local educators and television professionals.  The shows combine segments featuring the Sesame Street Muppet characters with animation and mini-documentaries to create uniquely engaging programming.  Locally developed Muppet characters will appeal to young children through cleverness and humor relevant to their respective cultures.  Animation and live action pieces fostering self-esteem and mirroring the rich cultural heritages will present joyful moments from childrens everyday lives.
     In addition to the television series, a comprehensive outreach initiative will extend the series messages.  Educational materials have been designed for use in a variety of settings including early childcare centers, preschools, kindergartens, and homes.  These materials include teachers guides, home videos, educational posters, and audio/video cassettes. 
     The project is funded in large part by the EU as well as other donors.  Jordans Hikayat Simsim is produced by Jordan Pioneers in Amman and will launch on JTV this month.  Israels Sippuray Sumsum is produced with Zebra Communications in Israel and airs on Hop! TV.  Palestines Hikayat Simsim is produced with Al Quds University in Ramallah and will debut on The Maan Network this month.  With a sustained commitment to improving the lives of all children in the region, the three production teams continued over the years despite endless practical and physical challenges in the creation of their own Sesame Stories productions. 
     Working with children today will help build peace tomorrow, said Michael Leigh, Deputy Director General for the Middle East in the European Commission External Relations Directorate General.  The Sesame Stories project is an inspiring initiative which should help build understanding and mutual respect.  The Commissions support to this project testifies our long-term commitment to peaceful coexistence and tolerance in the Middle East.
     Sesame Stories is the cornerstone and model for Sesame Workshops global initiative to produce educational media with a specific focus on respect and understanding, said Gary E. Knell, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sesame Workshop.  Through the dedication of our talented partners and commitment from generous funders, Sesame Stories strives to counter the negative images that children see on television everyday and offer hope for a better world.  Sesame Stories conveys realistic and positive messages, and provides a valuable tool to children in developing new perspectives about themselves and those around them.
     For years, television programs have been doing a great job in teaching children the alphabet, said Khaled Haddad, Executive Producer of the Jordanian Hikayat Simsim.  But Jordans Hikayat Simsim does much moreit teaches children the alphabet of life by delivering messages of hope, and of respect and understanding.
     We have the privilege of producing and broadcasting for the most vulnerable audiencepreschool children, said Alona Abt, Executive Director of Israels Sippuray Sumsum.  This privilege also obliges us to try and use the media in the most innovative ways to make a truly worthy contribution.  We have always been very engaged in pushing media to its limits in terms of the depth and complexity in which we present images to children.
     We are proud to have been able to produce this high quality series dealing with issues of culture and pride, as well as respecting the other, despite the difficult circumstances that we and our children are going through, said Daoud Kuttab, Executive Producer of the Palestinian Hikayat Simsim.
     Funding for Sesame Stories was made possible by the European Union, Charles H. Revson Foundation, The Kahanoff Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Human Security Program of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, The Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, The Double H Foundation, Inc., and The Wolfensohn Family Foundation.


Beatrice Chow
Sesame Workshop
(212) 875-6586            

Ellen Lewis                                     
Sesame Workshop
(212) 875-6396

Sheila Feren
Publicist for Sesame Workshop
(212) 983-9898