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Zari in a hijab

Baghch-e Simsim, Afghanistan’s version of Sesame Street, welcomed a new member to the cast and she’s already making waves!

Zari is a precocious young girl who, according to PBS, will empower girls in a country where the female literacy rate is 24%, one of the lowest in the world, and 85% of women have no formal education at all. The hope is that Zari's drive for learning will encourage girls to dream big for themselves, awww!

Meet Zari

Zari wears several different outfits, each one influenced by the many different cultural groups in Afghanistan, so many girls seeing the show will identify with Zari!  She also wears a cream-colored hijab with her school uniform, which is required of all female students in Afghanistan.

Zari and Afghanistans First Lady Rula GhaniZari in her hijab with First Lady of Afghanistan Rula Ghani (image via Facebook)

I'm getting all emotional just thinking of the girls in Afghanistan meeting Zari for the first time.  I'm not gonna lie, actual tears sprang to my eyes watching the video below. Grab some tissues and click to see Zari come to life: from initial concept, to practicing with her puppeteers, to meeting Elmo!

Zari's main puppeteer is 23-year-old Mansoora Sherzad, an arts and music major at Kabul University. She lends her voice to Zari when she is speaking in Pashto (another actress voices Zari in Dari, another official language of Afghanistan). Sherzad herself is pretty inspiring, considering it is still pretty dangerous to be a woman and a public figure in the conservative country. “It’s hard to live with people who don’t believe in what I’m doing and have closed minds, what with the Taliban...” she trailed off. “But I have to be brave for my future and for my life.”

How exciting is it for the young girls — and everyone! — of Afghanistan that they have Zari (and Mansoora Sherzad) as role models? I hope everyone tuning in to Baghch-e Simsim is inspired by Zari and her message of female empowerment!

Screen Shot 2016 04 14 at 11.54.48 AM

images via Sesame Street and Sesame Workshop on Twitter

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