Wednesday, March 12, 2014

From ‘Sesame Street’ to ‘My Village’

A shot from one of the final videos © UNICEF/LAOS/2014
"Remarkable” is a word ‘Sesame Street’ director and producer Lisa Simon uses many times during her two weeks in Lao PDR. Lisa and ‘Sesame Street’ writer Luis Santeiro were invited by UNICEF to support and share ideas with local talent to help plan ahead for season two of popular Lao children’s television show ‘My Village’.

“What these people have achieved in only five days is amazing. To think that on Monday 80 people were brought together, many for the first time, and five days later they will have a short film scripted, shot and edited is really, really remarkable,” says Lisa, clearly buzzing from the experience.

“I didn’t think it could be done in only five days. But what has been produced is beautiful and remarkable.”

Luis was no less excited and saw all the different benefits ‘My Village’, a first-of-its-kind show for under-fives, could bring not only to children but to Lao artists as well: “People will see this and think ‘maybe I can do something like that’.”

“Artists need an outlet and I think this is just the beginning. When I started my career, way back, I remember telling my father what I wanted to do. He’d say ‘what?!’ because working in children’s television in the 1960s or 1970s just wasn’t anything you heard of. So you need a first example; once it’s out there and seen, it’s easier to understand and repeat.”

Early childhood education and C4D specialist, Barbara Kolucki, highlighted the importance of nurturing a culture of communication for and with all children: "What a gift it will be to all Lao children, including those who are disabled or from a range of ethnic groups, when they see themselves positively included as both confident and competent."

“This is so vital because this can help children understand that, yes, you can write books or make animations that people want to see, and maybe win awards like Luis and Lisa. If you nurture people like those in this workshop, that will really be an amazing gift to Lao children.”

Luis, Lisa, Barbara & My Village's Mimi Phetsomphou © UNICEF/LAOS/2014/S.Nazer

Season one of ‘My Village’ was first broadcast in 2013 and was an instant hit across the country. Backed by UNICEF with the support of the Lao Government, the show was seen as a first in Lao PDR because there were no shows for Lao children. Many children instead watch foreign television, often dominated by soap operas and martial arts shows.

The show included characters from different ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities and taught skills such as literacy, numeracy and creative skills.

“A key concept in ‘My Village’ is inclusiveness with girls, boys, children with disabilities, and children from ethnic groups. They take part in the show and participate in the production process itself,” says Prinprathana Phanthamaly from the Lao Ministry for Information, Culture and Tourism.

Lisa and Luis, both Emmy award winners, flew from New York to support a one week workshop with Lao writers, musicians, directors, television companies, artists, NGOs and government representatives. The workshop focused on areas such as scriptwriting, producing live-action film, directing and music and song composition.

“They can really do a lot with a little here; the abilities on show are huge,” says Lisa while thinking about everything she had seen so far.

Luis, nodding along enthusiastically, jumps in: “They can wear many different hats, do many different things. ‘My Village’ was produced with three people - in the US it’d take us 50!”

“Remarkable,” said Lisa, who starts smiling and nodding in unison with Luis.

As well as developing the experience and capacities of those involved, the workshop also contributed many ideas to Season Two of ‘My Village’, to be produced this year thanks to funding from Swedish retail giant H&M via UNICEF Sweden.

“In only five days everyone will have produced lots of ideas for the next season, and we will find new talents to widen our pool to make sure we don’t rely on individuals too much,” says Lisa.

The final day of the workshop saw the screening of films by the six groups in front of everyone involved in the workshop and a group of school children. Typically, Lisa describes the results as “remarkable” and it was clear that all the videos captivated the audience.

“What struck me this week is how active you all are and the amount of talent here. I’ve never seen anything like it – the writers in New York wouldn’t have been able to do what you have done,” said Luis to participants at the end of the workshop.

Indeed it appeared to be a remarkable experience for all those involved, and hopes are high that it is only just the start.


  1. I am a fan of Sesame Street. I really love this article. Thank you for sharing this to all of us, definitely gonna share this to my students.