Lifestyle & Belief

Pakistani Sesame Street will stop getting US funds


Sesame Street characters Cookie Monster, Ernie (center) and Bert (behind) at the fifth anniversary of Hollywood theme park Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.


Yoshikazu Tsuno

In April of last year, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) commissioned a new project: Pakistani Sesame Street. USAID planned to donate $20 million to the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop in Pakistan, so that the group could create a local version of the popular children's show, BBC News reported at the time.

But those USAID funds weren't just going to Elmo or Bert and Ernie. It turned out that the Rafi group was misusing the money, Pakistan Today reported. The theater company allegedly hired "blue-eyed" artists instead of Pakistanis, drove around USAID-donated cars for personal use, and used some of the USAID money to pay off old debts unrelated to the show. 

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“The Rafi Peer Theatre had not given salaries to its employees for the past eight months. When they got the USAID contract, they not only settled the salaries, but other dues to the tune of million of rupees to different companies they were indebted to," a source told Pakistan Today.

After Pakistan Today's story was published, the US Embassy announced today that it would stop funding the project, the Associated Press reported. The corruption allegations will be an embarrassment for the USAID program if they turn out to be true, as some analysts have long criticized the USAID program for "lacking focus," according to the AP.