By Stephen Sobhani and Rebecca Fishman

On this year’s World Toilet Day on November 19, 2.5 billion people around the world still lack access to sanitation and 1.1 billion people poop in the open. Sanitation is an oft neglected and taboo topic closely linked to infant and child mortality, undernutrition, and poverty. The good news It is a solvable problem and everyone – including children – can be part of the solution.

As the world’s largest informal educator of children (reaching over 150 million children every month in 150 countries) and a pioneer in using media as a tool for education, nonprofit Sesame Workshop made a commitment in 2012 to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child effort to do more in global health. Since then, we have enthusiastically entered the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) space with Raya, Sesame’s newest and first Muppet friend specifically developed to address a pressing health issue in multiple countries across multiple platforms. Raya has the potential to significantly impact the global WASH crisis in an effort to end childhood illness from preventable disease.

Raya, a neat 6-year-old, aqua-green girl Muppet, was originally created to teach children how to pee and poop in a sanitary manner. We know that if Raya can instill these fundamental messages to children in their formative years, they will be equipped with the knowledge to make smarter decisions for a stronger, healthier future. A multi-country curriculum fueled with generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is already reaching children in Bangladesh, India, and Nigeria through schools and community partnerships.

At the global level, Raya has been busy delivering her sanitation messages through major platforms and events. She appeared in a video for the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General’s “End Open Defecation” campaign and joined Elmo in talking about sanitation with world leaders at September’s Global Citizen Festival. These advocacy messages help raise critical awareness and build political will towards WASH, serving as a valuable complement to Raya’s child education efforts.

Photo: John Barrett

While advocacy is immensely important, talking directly to children on their level about health issues, improving their healthy WASH behaviors, and empowering them to teach their friends and their families is where true progress will be realized. As a global organization, Sesame’s greatest strength is our ability to communicate directly to children and caregivers.

To access and educate the hardest-to-reach children, we need new and innovative collaborations. Sesame Workshop is in active conversations with international organizations that can bring Raya’s lessons to scale helping kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder. We provide the critical “software” (e.g. hygiene education) that, combined with “hardware” such as toilets and other infrastructure, can lead to lasting and sustainable change. Stay tuned for key partnership announcements coming out in the next couple of months.

We know that access to clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene are some of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to prevent childhood disease and death. Join us in lending your support to World Toilet Day and helping Raya talk about poop:

• Learn more about the issue by visiting Share your time donation and key sanitation messages from the site.

• Tweet using #OpenDefecation and #sanitation. Follow @OpenDefecation.

• Visit for additional ways you can get involved.

• Join Raya and Sesame Street:


Stephen Sobhani is the VP, International for Sesame Workshop. Rebecca Fishman is an independent consultant and subject matter expert on WASH.