Image from a press release
UPDATE (3/20/14 12:22 PM EST): Sesame Workshop provided the following statement:
2.5 billion people currently do not have access to toilets. Children are adversely affected by lack of access to clean water and sanitation. It is estimated that each year over 2.2 million children die due to poor hygiene combined with lack of safe water and basic sanitation. 1.5 million of these deaths are caused by diarrhea.
Wearing sandals or footwear is incredibly important as it helps keep children’s feet clean and safe from cuts and bruises. It also prevents children from getting hookworm and other parasites. By being a good role model, Raya can encourage children to cultivate this good habit at an early age.
Education is at the heart of all Sesame Workshop content. The more we can get the word out about the need for projects such as Cleaner, Healthier, Happier, the better we can contribute raising awareness about the critical importance of proper sanitation.
The new Muppet movie isn't the only thing shitty coming out of Jim Henson studios this week; the latest Muppet to be introduced to the Sesame Street universe, an aquamarine six year-old named Raya, is fixated on keeping kids from coming in contact with poop. In a recent promotional interview, apropos of nothing, she steered the conversation toward feces:
Brian: I noticed that you wear your sandals everywhere. Do you know why that’s important?
Raya: Of course I do, Mr. Brian! I know lots of things. I make sure to wear my sandals everywhere—especially to the latrine.
Maya's verbal diarrhea is tied to the fact that apparently she "loves to learn and remembers every fact she reads or hears—whether they are useful or not," so she, naturally, blurts out scatological non-sequitors. The aforementioned disturbing conversational turn, however, was brought about by the fact that Raya was in India at the time, talking to a representative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation about the need for kids to exercise conscientious bathroom habits in the developing world.
Hanging around latrines, and squatting over ditches puts kids at risk for some horrifying diseases, and Raya is here to educate kids about keeping all those worms and bacteria out of their digestive systems. I'm betting she'll save thousands of lives. Also, haha! Poop!
If you were an NGO looking to save lives, you might come to the conclusion that the world needs Raya too. Every year, 60,000 people—mostly children—die from ascariasis, a disease caused by an intestinal worm. The disease is so rare in the United States, you've probably never given it a second thought, but by most estimates, more than one tenth of the humans on earth have these foot-long worms in their small intestines. Here's a link to a picture of these worms in action.
And that's just one disease. A third of the world, and six in ten Africans live without proper sanitation according to UNICEF, leaving them vulnerable to diarrhea, cholera, schistosomiasis (another worm infection), and trachoma (which blinds millions of people).
So Raya will appear in public service announcements produced by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit wing of Sesame Street tied to charitable groups trying to educate kids in devloping countries. You probably recall Kami (pictured above with Bill Clinton), the Muppet introduced on Nigeria's version of Sesame Street a decade ago to help kids deal with the fact that they were born with HIV. In the States, you might not have heard anything in a while from Kami, but she's fine. She's on antivirals.
This is Sesame Street killing it as usual. The one for American kids might not save lives, but it did more than just teach me to read. It taught me about death, and through the character of Harvey Kneeslapper, brought the problem of invasive, cackling psychopaths to my attention at a very young age. I joke, but a study by the Univeristy of Wisconsin Madison shows that Sesame Street's efforts usually prove remarkably fruitful.
Apparently Raya's appearances will teach kids important lessons about things like washing their hands before meals, something that seems innocuous to you and I, but in India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, helps keep the eggs of parasites out of your food. She'll also teach kids to stay away from stagnant water, use toilet paper instead of hands, and probably a bunch of things I would have never guessed. For instance: Would you know to stay away from water with freshwater snails living in it? I didn't until just now.
By the way, while Raya's mission of education and awareness is nice and everything, I can't help pointing out that where charitable donations are concerned, sanitation in the developing world is an area where a little bit goes a long way. Interestingly, I ran around to the press rooms of major NGOs like Unicef, the World Health Organization, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation trying to get someone at one of those places to talk to me about sanitation, and for whatever reason, no one would get back to me with so much as a list of platitudes about how children are our future.
So donate to smaller organizations who don't even have press rooms. They're the ones Peter Singer endorses anyway (other than Oxfam. They're huge). Here's a link to one of the little guys that I like. Here's another. Personally, I give monthly.
Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter