New Muppets spread int'l goodwill


NEW YORK -- Sesame Workshop and the Merrill Lynch Foundation have announced a worldwide kids initiative -- Panwapa -- with a new cast of Muppet characters aimed at fostering global citizenship and community participation in children ages 4 to 7.

"Azibo the Monster" and "Athena the Owl" are among the new muppets featured in Panwapa, which means "here on earth" in the Tshiluba language. The initiative consists of an interactive Web site, a DVD and print materials available in five languages -- English, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish -- to children around the world.

Beginning Tuesday, Panwapa content will be made available at no charge on iTunes, and beginning in January it will be available on free video-on-demand via PBS KIDS Sprout, a 24-hour preschool network for kids ages 2-5 and their parents.

Panwapa was announced Tuesday by Sesame Workshop president and CEO Gary Knell and Merrill Lynch vice chairman Harold Ford Jr. at the United Nations International School, with a guest appearance by U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Whoopi Goldberg. In addition, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg officially proclaimed Oct. 10 as "Panwapa Day" in the city. A team of international cultural experts, early childhood researchers, educators and media specialists from nine countries and organizations such as Oxfam, UNICEF, and the World Bank first developed the idea for Panwapa in 2005. Multinational teams from Merrill Lynch and Sesame Workshop worked with the advisors to create content for the program.