As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, we know it’s the most vulnerable who are most at risk—including displaced families. Together with our partners, we’re rapidly adapting our refugee response work to continue reaching them. While in-person direct services are on hold, we’re delivering parenting resources through WhatsApp, making storybooks available online, and airing brand-new, remotely-produced COVID-19 content – all to support continued early learning and help families cope during these especially challenging times.
The effect of the global refugee crisis is hard to overstate. It has displaced over 31 million children. They’ve lost homes and loved ones, seen violence, and endured the kinds of trauma that put them at risk for lifelong impairments. Millions have no access to quality early learning, yet less than 3% of all humanitarian aid goes to education, and only a tiny fraction of that to early childhood. With such high stakes, the challenge is clear. How the world meets it will have ripple effects on society for decades. But in the face of great difficulty, we also see hope.
Children are remarkably resilient. At Sesame Workshop, we know from decades of tackling some of the toughest challenges facing children that if we reach them early, we can help change their trajectories. But we also know we can’t do it alone—in this case, we needed partners who understand the plight of refugees as well as we understand the needs of young children. So, with historic support from the MacArthur Foundation and the LEGO Foundation, we’ve teamed up with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), BRAC, and others to bring hope and opportunity to a generation of refugee children.
With the IRC, we’re rolling out Ahlan Simsim ("Welcome Sesame" in Arabic), a groundbreaking program that delivers early learning and nurturing care to children and caregivers affected by the Syrian conflict. A new, localized version of Sesame Street, also called Ahlan Simsim, launches in February 2020 with a focus on building the social-emotional skills so important to children who have faced traumatic experiences. Combined with in-person direct services across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, Ahlan Simsim reaches families wherever they are—from classrooms and health clinics to TV and mobile devices—with the vital educational resources that they need in order to thrive.
In Bangladesh, we’re working with BRAC, the largest international development NGO, to bring play-based learning to hundreds of thousands of children in and around the massive refugee settlement at Cox’s Bazar. We’ll develop new video content and other materials meaningful for both Rohingya children and those in host communities and distribute them wherever children are. Since many have no access to TV or mobile phones, we’ll bring Sesame directly to children and families through community viewings and create new and complementary content for BRAC’s LEGO Foundation-funded Humanitarian Play Labs.
By reaching vulnerable children with proven Sesame content through established methods, we can help them reach their full potential. Our materials promote the kind of engagement with a caring adult and nurturing care that has been shown to strengthen children’s resilience and mitigate the effects of traumatic experiences. We also equip vulnerable children with language, reading, math, and social-emotional skills that can set them on a path to thrive into adulthood.
This historic initiative— the largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response—will reach millions of children in the Syrian response region and Bangladesh with early education, nurturing care, and playful learning—with millions more reached through mass media. It’s an all-out push on a massive scale. Because an investment in these children is an investment in a more peaceful and stable world for everyone.
Our partners at NYU Global TIES Center are conducting a multi-year, evidence-based research and evaluation program to measure the success of our approach. Our research will help double the existing evidence base on what early education programs are most effective in crisis settings. It will be shared with the entire humanitarian community—because real success is much bigger than any one region. We intend for this program to become a scalable model that can be replicated: one that will transform humanitarian response wherever children and families are in conflict or crisis.
If you’re interested in keeping up with our work in Bangladesh and the Syrian response region, join our Humanitarian Programs newsletter mailing list here.
When you support Sesame Workshop, you’re making a positive difference in the lives of children around the world. Join us!