x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 August 2017

Iftah Ya Simsim - it’s treasure for children to treasure

The Arabic adaptation of Sesame Street is back in production and set to broadcast its first new episode this weekend on nine regional stations, including Abu Dhabi Al Emarat TV and Sharjah TV.

Mohammad Khawldeh takes a selfie with a couple of cuddly characters during the official launch event of Iftah Ya Simsim at Mubarak bin Mohammed school in Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. Christopher Pike / The National
Mohammad Khawldeh takes a selfie with a couple of cuddly characters during the official launch event of Iftah Ya Simsim at Mubarak bin Mohammed school in Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // “Open your doors Sesame, we are the children.”

Sung in Arabic, this opening line from a much-loved children’s TV show still stirs up feelings of nostalgia for many people in the UAE and across the region.

Now, after a 25-year hiatus, Iftah Ya Simsim, the Arabic adaptation of Sesame Street, is back in production and set to broadcast its first new episode this weekend on nine regional stations, including Abu Dhabi Al Emarat TV and Sharjah TV.

“Our children need content that is developed specifically for their needs and matches their cultural values,” Noura Al Kaabi, chief executive of twofour54, said on Tuesday at the show’s official launch at the Mubarak bin Mohammed school in Al Bateen.

At the event Emirati pupils sang alongside the dancing No’man, a much-loved camel character from the original Iftah Ya Simsim, Arabic for “Open Sesame”.

“To see No’man on stage brought it back full circle,” said Ms Kaabi, who was an avid watcher of Iftah Ya Simsim until it went off the air in 1990.

She said its return was much needed by Arab youth.

“It will target their culture, their language, their relevance to the region, which is lacking with many,” she said.

“Whether you are in Abu Dhabi or in Marrakech – the basis and essence is the same. We all want our children to have good manners and values.”

Steve Youngwood, chief operating officer of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organisation behind Sesame Street, said Iftah Ya Simsim was expected to reach up to 45 million viewers.

“It was one of the early versions of Sesame Street to help pave the way,” he said.

The show is a collaboration by the Abu Dhabi Education Council, twofour54, the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States and Bedia Media.

Fans can interact with the show in different ways, such as the Iftah Ya Simsim Youtube channel, Facebook page, and Instagram account as well as see live shows in schools.

Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, director general of Adec, said the show would be an important tool in combating negative influences on young children from the media.

“Many of the messages are not in line with our culture and some even promote violence. This show will not only engage our children through the use of classical Arabic but also give them a social awareness,” said Dr Al Qubaisi.

The voice, and hand, of one of the new characters, Shamsa, a vibrant six-year-old girl, said that being able to influence children’s behaviour in a positive way was the reason she loved working on the show.

“I measure the success of the show not by number of viewers but how children react to Shamsa,” said puppeteer Asma Al Shamsi.

One of the challenges the 29-year-old faced was improving her classical Arabic to meet the show’s high standards.

She hoped Iftah Ya Simsim would help to instil a good command of Arabic, as well as good habits, at a young age.

“I made a video for my niece where Shamsa tells her what a good girl she is and that she knows she reads stories, drinks lots of milk, and goes to bed early. My niece now does them all,” she said.

tsubaihi@thenational.ae