Ameera, 8-year old science and basketball enthusiast with a bright green ponytail and exuberant personality, is the latest Muppet character to debut from Sesame Workshop. Her creators hope her use of a wheelchair or forearm crutches due to a spinal cord injury will help normalize physical disabilities for kids, and while not a refugee herself, Ameera will help tell the stories of displaced children like her fellow muppet friends, Noor and Aziz from Bangladesh. She will premier on the new season of “Ahlan Simsim,” the version of “Sesame Street” that airs in the Middle East and North Africa.
Ameera uses a wheelchair or crutches to get around and creators hope that children with physical disabilities will see themselves in Ameera, and that able-bodied children will see that they have more similarities with Ameera than the differences in their mobility. “We really wanted to bring in a new character who uses a wheelchair or other mobility gear because so many of the children in the populations we reach use mobility care,” Scott Cameron, head of international production at Sesame Workshop, told CNN. “We wanted them to feel seen on camera.”
Beyond the issue of mobility Ameera will bring to the spotlight, the team also hopes that children will see themselves in Ameera’s exuberant personality. “Ameera is a really fun and cool girl,” said Deborah Marie Rodríguez García, education manager of humanitarian programs at Sesame Workshop. “She loves sports, and she loves science, technology, engineering and math. We wanted to make sure that that is represented as well — that girls can go against the gender stereotypes and biases.”
“Ahlan Simsim,” Arabic for “Welcome Sesame,” premiered in 2020 in order to help children who were facing trauma and displacement from the Syrian war. Past seasons have focused on developing problem-solving and conflict resolution skills, and this season’s focus is on kindness, said Cameron. Beyond her regular appearance on “Ahlan Simsim,” Ameera will also star in a series of early learning videos for children displaced by war. Currently, these videos are being adapted for children displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I hope that Ameera and the rest of the Sesame crew will help children with their learning skills, providing them techniques to cope with difficult situations while bringing joy and happiness to their environment,” García said. “We know that there’s a really big gap in crisis and response efforts when it comes to providing early learning opportunities and early childhood development.” According to UNICEF estimates, more than 33 million children have been displaced around the world, with 2.5 million additional recently displaced from their homes in Ukraine. According to UNICEF, “60 per cent of children are now forced from their homes as attacks on urban areas continue.“
As we reflect on the 11th anniversary of the conflict in Syria, our hearts are with the millions of children and families affected by this crisis. Together with @RESCUEorg, we are continuing to bring early learning and nurturing care to children across the region. pic.twitter.com/qPGHXq2MZ1— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) March 15, 2022
Ameera has a pretty long to-do list, but a team of external inclusion and disability experts—including occupational therapists, disability technical experts, inclusive early education specialists, and people with disabilities themselves, based in both the Middle East and in the U.S.—helped design her story to accurately portray children with disabilities. Said Estee Bardanashvili, supervising producer and senior director, “We wanted to make sure that we created a character based on the advice and guidance of our advisors, as well as a character that kids would be excited to be friends with, to learn and destigmatize that you can be friends with those who are different from you.”