Just like each colour, each individual is different and something as beautiful as a rainbow that can only come together when all of these individuals come together and work in harmony. Webster’s dictionary defines “Diversity” as “the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organisation.” The assimilation and acceptance of diverse people, and tolerance and respect of each individual’s opinion are some of the basic ingredients of a working society.
In such an environment, the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s (RPTW) initiative, SimSimHamara; which was funded by the USAID came as a ray of hope. As indicated by the name hamara that means ours. This is a show that from its inception is based on inclusiveness; it belongs to every child in Pakistan from the Arabian Sea to the snowy peaks with the deserts and the plains in between.
Children are our future; with this in mind, SimSimHamara is a show for audiences from ages between four to nine (even though older audiences could also find it of value). Research in neurosciences has proved that early childhood is the best time to offer opportunities that enable children to stretch beyond the familiar. Young children have developing minds; they are sharp and inquisitive, they grasp and question everything in their surroundings. At the same time, their minds are supple and malleable, whatever they see, they absorb and practice. At this age, it is important that children are exposed to material that helps them understand that there are different people out there and there are more than one ways to spend one’s life.
Television is a very powerful medium to disseminate information. In Pakistan, children who don’t even have access to school do have access to television. Unfortunately at the moment, entertainment for children on television in Pakistan is limited, if not nonexistent. The entertainment that Pakistani children are being exposed to is foreign cartoons and gory video games. If television is what children must watch for entertainment, wouldn’t you rather want your children to watch something that teaches them concepts like patience, respect, tolerance, individuality in a fun manner, so that maybe our next generations will not make mistakes that we have.
The first season of SimSimHamara aired its last episode on Saturday, June 23, 2011. The entire season and each specific episode is bunched under the subject of community. SimSimHamara is a wonderfully colourful community complete with a diverse range of characters. The SSH school promotes education, and Rani is the champion of female empowerment. While designing her character as a local girl with pigtails, it was hoped that she would encourage many girls like herself to go school. The local dhaba is what brings flavour to SSH, quite literally. The dhaba’s manager is Baaji, don’t we all have one; she is a sweet, kindly woman who loves to comfort the residents of SSH with her delicious meals. The diversity in SSH is not just limited to characters, but also to food. The show aims to help children understand that there are different ways to meet basic needs like food and drink. Every culture has some kind of traditional cuisine. Baaji can whip up anything from a healthy vegetable roll (desi version of a Shawerma) to a delicious Soojikahalwa. Munna is the little genius whose imagination carries him to places way further than SimSimHamara and Kiran is a vivacious young girl, who loves to read and encourages others to do the same.
Another component of the show that deals specifically with diversity is the live action films. They are shot all over Pakistan, other than capturing the scenic beauty of a land that has everything from snowy peaks, white sandy beaches, vast deserts and beautiful forests. These film show children speak in their native accents and clothing and habitat. The live action films cover every province of Pakistan. These films are just one part of the show. Other components include street stories that make up a major chunk of the show. They tackle themes like family, similarities, differences, friendship, tradition and contribution.
Songs are a huge part of the show. SimSimHamara’s first season produced 52 original songs. These songs are one of a kind; they are especially designed for children. Children can learn to appreciate cultural diversity through music and dance. The show introduces children to music that is less familiar to them at the moment. They might not be accepting about different lifestyles, or food, or people who look different. But every child is willing to listen to music and dance with it.
Recently, there has been a lot said about the show and the way it has been managed. But not much is said about the show and its potential because the end product is something that is unquestionably good and its benefits cannot be denied. If the show goes off air, for whatever reason it may be, unfortunately, the party most affected is going to be the children and no one is talking about them. This show might be one of our best chances to open up hearts and minds of Pakistani children, not just to each other, but to the world at large. And, more importantly, it might help the world understand Pakistan and its people better!
n The writers are freelance journalists.