29 March 2012

Congolese Kid's TV

Sarah and I share this pretty fabulous French tutor.  We've mentioned him before.  He's the kind of French tutor who makes you feel like you speak French really well and only ever need the slightest adjustment to your already near-perfect grammar.

Which, randomly, makes me think of this clip (which I can't watch on our awesome internet connection but maybe you can):

Tchic is unique in that each French lesson is also a counseling, cultural, news, and gossip session.  This guy is amazing.  He is liberal in his views ("Women need autonomy and independence in Congo.  This is the only way to a secure future."), cultured (his French degree is from Paris), incredibly connected (he's a think tank extraordinaire), and super funny (just imagine our jovial conversation about the differences between sorcery and voodoo last week).
When Tchic heard about Mama Congo - he was all over it.  He immediately wanted in. "What do you want to talk about?" I asked (in flawless French, of course). "About my idea for a children's television program about the environment." he responded, matter-of-factly. Of course. We turned his request into a lesson.  I was to conduct an interview in the formal vous, take notes in French, and finally, turn out a product that would launch Tchic and his ideas all over the Internet.  As it turns out, Tchic and a small group of like-minded folks have a small NGO called Espace Vert Congolais or EVC.  Tchic rattled off the mission as this:
The protection and conservation of the general environment and the different ecosystems that exist in Congo.
As you can see, Tchic isn't easily intimidated.  He's hardly "beat down" by a lifetime (Tchic's no spring chicken) of "being Congolese."  He goes big or goes home. EVC stemmed off of a local think tank in which Tchic is also involved, called CREC (looking at my notes, I apparently forgot to ask what this stands for...).  The goal of this organization is "to develop Congo." Wowzers. Okay - back to the kids' television show.  The EVC decided that the best place to start with their mission was with children - commencement avec les enfants.  Tchic said that most of the major environmental issues and illnesses (typhoid, tuberculosis, asthma, and something awful and rashy-sounding, but unidentifiable to me, called mucose) mostly affect children's health.  It seemed logical to him that the ones most affected could also be the ones most effective.  Ils vont practique le protection de l'environment. In order to teach these kids how to protect the environment and therefore, their health, Tchic wants a television show (well - he admitted that he really wants an whole station dedicated to the environment, beamed into Congolese homes 24/7).  He estimates (based on what, I'm not sure...) that despite widespread. crushing poverty 2/3 of Kinshasa homes have a television. I'd believe it.  I've seen one-room, crumbling shacks that still proudly displayed a fine set.

History today by FredR, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  FredR 

He wants research-based (the others on the EVC board are university professors and doctors) programming made accessible to children.   He wants to use technology to benefit public health.  He wants to wrangle media, globalization, and pop culture for the benefit of his country. Basically, Tchic wants Sesame Street for Congo.   Sesame Street was created as a TV "Head Start," revolving around the simple idea that "if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them." The origin, process, and evolution of Sesame Street is fascinating and utterly impressive.  Even to me, who can barely tolerate children's programming.  The newest character on the show?  Lily, a Muppet "7-year-old girl representing one of the 17 million American children that the Department of Agriculture estimates are 'food insecure,' meaning their access to food is limited or uncertain."    A good chunk of the current budget goes towards measuring the success of  literacy, health, and social education provided by Sesame Street to children in developing countries.

This is what Tchic is going for. Although, when I asked him if he wanted a "Congolese Rue Sesame" he scoffed at my ignorance.  His programming would be far more enlightened.

I pushed him for details.  Was he going for puppets?  Cartoons?  Zany real-life people who sang and danced?  He looked at me like I was mad. And then said, "I don't know.  I'm the ideas man. Other people can be creative.  Hey - aren't you creative, Jill?  Can you make a cartoon for me?" This was my turn to call him out for being ridiculous. It seems like such a funny idea.  But, then again, can you imagine the board room pitch for Yo Gabba Gabba, Dora the Explorer, or even Sesame Street itself?  "So, we're thinking that we'll dress this hyperactive grownup man  in a skin-tight orange jumpsuit and surround him with silly life-sized puppet and maybe throw Anthony Bordain into the mix as a doctor character.

That's absurd.  But, highly successful. And Sesame Street? "There will be this giant bird who's best friend is a kind of wooly mammoth and they live on a street in Brooklyn and teach kids how to READ!"
Pure insanity.  But super successful and beautiful and effective. So - I'm totally on board with Tchic.  This program is going to be amazing.  And ridiculous.  And fantastic.

Press-materals distributed by Gary E. Miller of Carl Byoir & Associates, Inc. for the Children's Television Workshop.

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