U.S. ends funding to Pakistani version of 'Sesame Street'
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The U.S. government has terminated its funding for Pakistan’s version of "Sesame Street" amid reports in a Pakistani newspaper that allegations of corruption had been made against the show’s local production outfit.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Robert Raines confirmed the cessation of funding for the organization producing the show, Rafi Peer Theater Workshop, but he would not explain why the $20-million project was being stopped. Raines declined to provide any further details.
However, an article Tuesday in Pakistan Today, an English language daily, cited unnamed sources who alleged that the Pakistani family in charge of the workshop had used some of the funds to pay off personal debt. Faizan Peerzada, a member of that family and chief operating officer for Rafi Peer, denied the allegations, calling them “slandering and misleading. ... We have a tough accounting system.”
The show began filming last fall. At the time, it was touted as an innovative attempt at boosting education in a country where many children do not go to school and bombings of school buildings occur virtually every week. Sesame Workshop, the creators of the American version of "Sesame Street," worked jointly with the Rafi Peer group to develop the Pakistani series.
Using just one character from the American version of the program, Elmo, the local version created a cast of Pakistani characters, including Rani, a 6-year-old girl enamored with cricket and her friend Munna, a 5-year-old boy who played the tabla, a small drum synonymous with South Asian music. The show sought to promote ethnic tolerance and a sense of gender equality in what has always been a male-dominated society.
Based in the eastern city of Lahore, Rafi Peer so far had been provided $10 million in U.S. funding. It has produced one season made up of 26 episodes, Peerzada said. The entire project was supposed to produce 78 episodes.
Peerzada denied that funding had been stopped because of corruption allegations. “They just said no funding is available for this program,” Peerzada said in a phone interview Wednesday.
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Photo: In an Oct. 13 file photo, a Pakistani artist gives final touches to characters of Pakistani Sesame Street in Lahore, Pakistan. Credit: K.M.Chaudary / Associated Press.