One Equal World

Bill Clinton Makes a Sesame Street Appearance to Spread Word About HIV/AIDS

Posted on: December 31, 2013

The Sesame Street of my childhood was all about numbers, letters and learning the occasional Spanish word with Maria.  Oscar the Grouch lived in a garbage can and was always surly (but he had a message for you.)  The Count was a vampire who would count things with you.  Big Bird talked to all kinds of kids and adults.  Elmo, pre talking Elmo doll frenzy, was just cute and sweet.  The Sesame Street messages were usually pretty benign.

So, was I surprised, and glad, to see a video clip from an episode of Sesame Street from South Africa.  Think it was just like here?  Not really.  The message was one that affects millions of people all across Africa and the world.  It was about HIV and AIDS.  Bill Clinton was on the show to help deliver the message.

Kami, the HIV-positive muppet of Sesame Street

Kami, the HIV-positive muppet of Sesame Street.
Image: Sesame Workshop

The gist of it was that Clinton was talking to an HIV positive puppet about what it’s like to have HIV or AIDS.  It’s an important message, and it’s encouraging the show’s creator felt comfortable enough to pass this information along to children.  In the clip, Clinton urges parents to talk to their kids about AIDS and HIV.

While the show did not go into specifics, Kami asked Clinton if he thought it was okay to hug somebody with HIV.  He said that he did, and he proceeded to give her a big hug.  It was a touching moment.

Kami, the female puppet, was created in 2002 as the world’s first HIV positive Muppet.  Her name comes from “kamogelo,” which means acceptance or welcome in Zulu, Sesotho and Setswana.

Since her debut, Kami has appeared at UNICEF events (She was named “Champion for Children” in 2003.), the Peabody Awards in 2005, many Sesame Workshop benefits, and the United Nations for World AIDS Day.

According to designer Ed Christie, “I think developing the HIV character as a monster allows you to not put a human stigma on it — at least, not easily. So when you have this monster with a problem, and she’s adorable, and she’s healthy, and she’s vibrant, and she’s a bright color, and wearing fabulous native clothing to the country, and she’s got a positive attitude, and again, because she’s a monster, it allows you to be more accepting of this character and what her message is.”

Further, he said, “Who wouldn’t love this little monster who just happens to have HIV? And when you love something, you want to take care of it, and when you want to take care of it, it becomes part of you. So that’s the whole philosophy behind it, and I find that very rewarding.”

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