KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. has terminated funding for a $20 million project to develop a Pakistani version of "Sesame Street" the U.S. Embassy said Tuesday. The decision came as a Pakistani newspaper reported allegations of corruption by the local puppet theater working on the initiative.
The organization in question is the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop, a group in the city of Lahore that jointly developed the show with Sesame Workshop, the creator of the American series.
The show, which includes Elmo and a host of new Pakistani characters, first aired at the end of last year and was supposed to run for at least three seasons. The U.S. hoped it would improve education in a country where one-third of primary school-age children are not in class. It was also meant to increase tolerance at a time when the influence of radical views is growing.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Robert Raines said the U.S. Agency for International Development terminated funding for the program, but declined to provide further details.
The Pakistan Today newspaper reported Tuesday that the cause was "severe" financial irregularities at Rafi Peer, citing unnamed sources close to the project. Officials at Rafi Peer allegedly used the U.S. money to pay off old debts and awarded lucrative contracts to relatives, the sources claimed.
Faizaan Peerzada, the chief operating officer of Rafi Peer and one of several family members who run the organization, denied the corruption allegations. He said the U.S. ended its participation after providing $10 million because of the lack of additional available funds.
"Rafi Peer is proud of its association with the project and of the quality of children's educational television programming created within Pakistan as a result," the group said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
If the corruption allegations prove true, it would be an embarrassment for the multibillion-dollar U.S. aid program in Pakistan, which some analysts have criticized for lacking focus and not achieving results.
Rafi Peer plans to seek alternative sources of funding to continue producing the local version of "Sesame Street," which is called "Sim Sim Hamara," or "Our Sim Sim." The original goal was to reach 3 million children, 1 million of whom are out of school.
The show is led by a vivacious 6-year-old girl named Rani who loves cricket and traditional Pakistani music. Her sidekick, Munna, is a 5-year-old boy obsessed with numbers and banging away on Pakistani bongo drums, or tabla. Other new characters include Baily, a kindly donkey who loves to sing, and Haseen O Jameel, a vain crocodile who lives at the bottom of a well.
The action revolves around a mock-up of a Pakistani town, complete with houses, a school and Baaji's dhaba, a small shop and restaurant found in many places in the country. The town also includes a large Banyan tree, known as the wisdom tree in South Asia, in the shade of which the children often play.
Each episode is based around a word and a number, like the U.S. version, and tackles general themes like friendship, respect and valuing diversity. This last theme is particularly important in Pakistan, where Islamist extremists often target minority religious sects and others who disagree with their views.
The American version of "Sesame Street" first aired in 1969, and the U.S. government has worked with the company since then to produce shows in about 20 foreign countries, including Muslim nations like Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Sesame Workshop, the creator of the American series, said it was dismayed to hear about the corruption allegations against Rafi Peer.
"It is our hope that the achievements of Sim Sim Hamara, and the gains we have made in the lives of children in Pakistan, will carry on," it said in a statement.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/15-10/21)
31 photos Launch gallery
1. Just a NY girl with BIG dreams....
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2. HAPPY CHILDREN=QUALITY PARENTING. We don't always see eye to eye on everything and that's normal. We're human beings. But we come together and do it right for what's important, the kids. We are not enemies, we are parents. And we are parents 1st. S/O to @monyettashaw for making Mason's bday memorable. S/O to @itscrystalsmith at home taking care of our other lil' Prince. ❤️❤️❤️ THIS IS WHAT CO-PARENTING LOOKS LIKE. #Blessed #Happy #AboveTheDrama #BiggerThanUs
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3. So happy to finally be able to share with you all that I’m the new Global Brand Ambassador for @Revlon! Follow my day on RevlonSnaps. Yay! Choose Love, Everybody! #RevlonXCiara #chooselove #ad
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4. Glam on point!!!@makeupbymotoko & @shaylinjoneshair #easybreezy @lifetimetv #beachesmovie #january2017 😘
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5. ✨True love ✨📸: @jessiemarrerophotography
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7. Today was not easy..but by the grace of God we all got through it. Words cannot express our gratitude for all of your Prayers, Positive thoughts and Support for us throughout the years. Tommy will be missed but most certainly never forgotten...And PLEASE don't ask "Where's Martin?.." he was there too...just not in this picture. Lol! God bless you all.. #LoveConquersAll #MartinShow
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9. West coast get ready for #RockyHorror. I will be live tweeting again. #letsdothetimewarpagain
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10. #THEKEYS pre order yours now ... Available everywhere #NOV22 #WeTheBest 🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑
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11. We about to ROCK at #KCABlackBall!! All for our life-changing effort to end 🌎 AIDS.
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12. Today's #SNAPJACK is brought to you by @yazzthegreatest 😂😂😂💋💋💋
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13. Damn girl you kinda old to be headed to the Go Go. You coming in at the age they leaving. LMAO
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14. Daddy daycare B-Boxin with @acewellstucker @shopraisingace
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15. #FBF Naviyd & URV "LIL MONSTERS"
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16. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BIGGEST LEGENDS IN OUR HIPHOP HISTORY! @snoopdogg CONTINUED BLESSING AND LOVE FAMILY!!!!! REAL OG!
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17. Thank you for a beautiful night VSU! Let's do it again! #HOMECOMING
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18. Had a great time this morning with my familia Erica, Griff & Truth!!
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19. Check out my interview on @essence facebook live. #inmyownwords #nycpromo #day2
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20. #She💋 #tbt #TheCoveAtTheAtlantis #DawgPawsAndAll
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21. Bae #retailtherapy
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22. Why me and @coryhardrict got the same pose... and notee... new mouth #naked
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23. When my husband is my personal 'hype-man'! it kills me every time! 💜😂 #WHATNOW #lostfiles📷
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24. Diggy Simmons
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25. Hand full of @jacquieaiche 💙💎💍 @esnail_la 💅🏾
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26. SuperSoulers! You can watch my interview with Carl Lentz live from my Facebook page, tomorrow at 11a ET| 8a PT. #SuperSoulSunday
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27. 💋 .. When the friendship is easy like Sunday morning. ☀️
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28. Sunday mornings are the best........... hugs and cuddles with my angel
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29. #huggar16 #hellohuggars
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30. My gym is everywhere!.. #RnBMoney #TheGeneral 📸: @twelvepastseven
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31. Nothing I would rather be doing... Rocko setting up our movie, Romelō working on a puzzle & Laiyah singing and sharing all she's learning at school... I'm so grateful for the joy they've brought into my life ... Praying for peace , joy & love in the home of EVERY family ♥️ #HeadScarfPJSunday LOL 😂
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