Meet Zeerak, the Newest Afghan Muppet

Sesame Workshop
Sesame Workshop

Sesame Street isn't just an American show—it has co-productions around the world, localized for kids in different countries and cultures. In Afghanistan, Baghch-e-Simsim ("Sesame Garden") just began its sixth season. Last year, the show introduced 6-year-old Zari, the first Afghan Muppet. Now, Baghch-e-Simsim adds its second Afghan Muppet, Zeerak, to its cast.

Zeerak, whose name means "smart" and "talented" in Dari and Pashto, is Zari's younger brother. He's 4 years old. He enjoys painting and playing games, and is just learning to read and count—though he's not going to school just yet. Zeerak marks the first time a male Afghan Muppet has ever existed, and he will likely become a role model for kids in the region. Baghch-e-Simsim is the most-watched TV program among young children in Afghanistan.

Zeerak sits with his older sister Zari. They're reading together.
Zeerak sits with his older sister Zari. They're reading together.
Sesame Workshop

Like Zari, Zeerak has multicolored yarn hair. He's orange, with a purple nose, glasses, and an outfit appropriate to the region. In a press release, the Sesame Workshop explained early interactions between Zeerak and Zari:

In one segment called “Going to School,” Zeerak eagerly awaits Zari’s return from school and is excited to hear about her day. Zari explains that Zeerak will have the opportunity to go to school too someday, and that working hard in school will help him achieve his dreams. Zari encourages Zeerak to think about what he might become when he grows up, and offers to teach him a few lessons before he’s ready to go to school himself.

It's hard to overestimate the impact of this TV show on Afghan children. The Sesame Workshop reports:

...[A]mong children who watch TV, over 80% report watching [Baghch-e-Simsim]; 3.1 million children ages 3-7 are tuning in, up 45% from 2015. And Baghch-e-Simsim isn’t only engaging children—more than 70% of parents and caregivers watch the program alongside children, with Baghch-e-Simsim surpassing other Afghan children’s shows in terms of adult-child co-viewership.

Zeerak is on the show now, and you can catch up on segments via YouTube if you happen not to be in Afghanistan. For a look behind the scenes of the show's production (in English), check out this delightful video in which (among other things) Muppeteers in the US videoconference with their counterparts in Afghanistan. Enjoy:

100 Homeless New York City High School Graduates Are Bound for College

iStock/Milkos
iStock/Milkos

Youth homelessness in New York City public schools is at an all-time high. In October, The New York Times reported that one out of every 10 students in the city's public school system were without permanent homes. As the school year wraps up, a hopeful story has come out of that sobering statistic. More than 100 New York City teens without homes have graduated high school and are on their way to college.

The exceptional group from the graduating senior class of 2019 were honored by the Department of Homeless Services at a ceremony on June 27, ABC 7 reports. Alexus Lawrence, a student who spoke at the ceremony, is the valedictorian of her high school and the recipient of a $2000 scholarship for academic excellence. She's now set to attend in Brooklyn College to study to become a pediatrician. Ronaldino Crosdale spoke as well; he's headed to Baruch College in the fall.

"I didn't believe in miracles until I got here," he said in his speech. You can see more clips from the ceremony in the video below.

Each of the college-bound students received a duffel bag of school supplies, including laptops. Rising rent costs have contributed to the growing number of homeless students in New York City, which outnumbered the total population of state capital Albany, as of last fall. The instability of temporary housing can lead to chronic absenteeism and poor grades among students. But despite their circumstances, every year there are homeless students who beat the odds. Earlier this year, Brianna Watts, a Bronx high school senior living in a homeless shelter, was accepted to 12 colleges.

[h/t ABC 7]

Las Vegas Is Letting Drivers Pay Their Parking Tickets With Donated School Supplies

iStock/Ekaterina Senyutina
iStock/Ekaterina Senyutina

Summer has just begun, but officials in Las Vegas, Nevada, have already implemented a plan to get free school supplies to kids by September. As CNN reports, the city has agreed to waive parking fines for people who donate back-to-school goods like pencils and paper.

According to a news release from the city of Las Vegas, the new parking ticket payment program will run for a limited time. From now through July 19, Las Vegas residents with non-public safety parking violations can bring new school supplies to the Parking Services Offices within 30 days of the citation date to have their fines forgiven. The donated items must be unwrapped and come with a receipt of greater or equal value to the fine being covered. In addition to conventional school supplies like writing implements, index cards, rulers, scissors, and erasers, cleaning supplies like paper towels and disinfecting wipes will also be accepted.

All goods collected through the program will be donated to the Teacher Exchange, a nonprofit associated with the Public Education Foundation. Every school year, the organization collects surplus books, office supplies, and other materials that would otherwise get thrown out and distributes them to public school classrooms in southern Nevada.

Las Vegas's new school supplies initiative is predated by experimental programs in other cities that allow residents to make donations to pay parking tickets. For five years in a row during the holiday season, Lexington, Kentucky, has accepted canned goods as payment for parking fines to help replenish the local God’s Pantry Food Bank.

[h/t CNN]

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