CNN International featured Bruktawit Tigabu and her husband Shane Etzenhouser co-creator of Ethiopian children’s TV show “Tsehai Loves Learning.” on the weekly African Voices
(CNN) — For millions of Ethiopian children, it’s the most cherished moment of their day: a wide-eyed, smiling giraffe hops in front of them, crooning funny songs in a language they can understand.
The beloved sock puppet, known as Tsehai, is the star of a ground-breaking TV show that’s been revolutionizing childhood education in the east African country.
The brainchild of Ethiopian educator Bruktawit Tigabu and her husband Shane Etzenhouser, “Tsehai Loves Learning” is the only children’s TV show in Ethiopia in Amharic, the nation’s official and most widely spoken language.
The show uses puppets and animation to teach young Ethiopians about sanitation and hygiene as well as the importance of culture and honesty.
“They don’t realize that they’ve been taught on TV,” says Tigabu from her cramped studio in suburban Addis Ababa where awards share space with the paraphernalia of puppetry.
“They’re just having fun, they’re just watching their favorite show but at the same time they’re learning about germs, they are learning about being truthful, they are learning about numbers and knowing their letters and getting ready for school.”
As a school teacher, Tigabu noticed early on that many students couldn’t travel long distances to get to their classes. Inspired by the success of popular U.S. children’s TV series “Sesame Street,” she and her husband decided to create a puppet show to promote early childhood education.
In Ethiopia, where diseases such as malaria and diarrhea contribute to high child mortality rates, the show’s health lessons can be life-saving.
“If they understand what germs are and how they can keep them off,” they can stay healthy, says Tigabu.
“If you do it in a way that’s very interesting and interactive for them, then they will do it. So for us the knowledge is key and the media is a tool to communicate those interesting messages.”
The show, whose puppets and characters speak the local Amharic language, reaches up to 5 million children. Tigabu says that having the show in Amharic is something she’s very proud of as she believes it’s important to address children in their mother tongue.
“Having their own language has huge values in terms of believing in their identity and in terms of knowing that their language matters,” she says.