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Ethiopia's 'Sesame Street' Needs Your Help Saving Orphans

Bruktawit Tigabu is a 30-year-old teacher in Ethiopia who despaired over the number of orphan children in her country. More than 5 million of the country’s 42 million children are orphans; mainly due to AIDS and abandonment. When you consider also that at the same time 60 percent of Ethiopian children grow up illiterate you can understand Tigabu’s despair. As in much of the world, these tragedies fall hardest on girls.

In response she and her husband Shane Etzenhouser, an American software engineer, co-founded the for-profit social enterprise Whiz Kids Workshop, a television production company that uses puppets and animation to help lead Ethiopian orphans through tough topics like AIDS, malaria, and the child sex-slave trade in Africa. All while also teaching kids the challenging Amharic alphabet.

Back in November 2011, after reading the horrifying book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, I committed to help the plight of girls and women in the developing world. This post is part of that continuing commitment.

Whiz Kids Workshop is best known for its flagship show Tsehai Loves Learning, which is targeted at 3-6 year-olds and reaches about 2.5 million kids nationwide on Ethiopian television. Some people have characterized Tsehai Loves Learning as Ethiopia's Sesame Street. Tsehai is a sock puppet giraffe.

The Whiz Kids Workshop also produces documentaries and training. Whiz Kids has a staff of nine, but Tigabu does much of the work herself, including testing scripts and storyboards on actual kids. Smart!

Whiz Kids recently launched a second show targeted at older children called Little Investigators, which tackles topics like deforestation and child-brides.

Whiz Kids and Tigabu have garnered a host of international awards and recognition, even when going against much better-funded groups. She won the Rolex Young Laureate Award, for instance, the Japan Prize and grants from UNESCO. I saw her mentioned in Fast Company’s 2012 list of the '100 Most Creative People in Business.'

It’s a pity that more of this renown hasn’t translated into more money. Whiz Kids annual budget is a scant $100,000. If they had more they could certainly do more.

Please considering donating at the Whiz Kids website. Whiz Kids is a for-profit social enterprise, so your donation won’t be tax deductible. But… as I think is evident… money goes a long way in Ethiopia.


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