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Bruktawit Tigabu

The hand puppet that saves lives

Published in 2010clockTime to read: 50s
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Appalled by the deaths of thousands of children from preventable diseases in her country, an Ethiopian schoolteacher invented an entertaining way to inform youngsters about hygiene.

locationEthiopia

A puppet giraffe called Tsehai and her animal puppet friends are watched by millions of children in Ethiopia and abroad. As they watch their favourite TV show, children are learning basic rules of hygiene, from hand-washing upwards, that can save their lives in a country where every year 300,000 children under the age of five die from diseases such as diarrhoea.

Most Ethiopian children know and love Tsehai. Today’s teens grew up with her.

This miracle began when Bruktawit Tigabu gave up her job as a schoolteacher to make the nation her classroom, combining her active imagination and a missionary zeal to save lives that have since won her recognition and funding in Ethiopia and around the world, from France to Japan and the United States, where Tsehai is often compared with Sesame Street.

Whiz Kids Workshop, the small company Tigabu and her husband, Shane Etzenhouser, set up in 2005 to produce Tsehai Loves Learning, now has far greater humanitarian ambitions, assisting the young to learn how to read and teaching older children about life and ethics. Originally produced in Amharic, Tsehai is watched in neighbouring countries, and dubbed into languages such as Somali, Tigrinya and Sudanese Arabic. “This is not just an Ethiopian problem, it is an African problem,” says Tigabu, who is also producing a series of books that feature Tsehai.

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