Ahlan Simsim—“Welcome Sesame” in Arabic—offers a warm and joyful welcome to early learning to young children across the Middle East, especially those affected by displacement. Designed for children ages 3-8, Ahlan Simsim features familiar faces Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Grover, two brand-new Muppet friends named Basma and Jad, animated characters, and pals like a lovable and mischievous baby goat named Ma’zooza who eats everything in sight. Basma, an almost-6-year-old purple Muppet, welcomed her yellow-furred friend Jad with open arms when he moved to her neighborhood, and their playful learning adventures continue as their friendship grows. Basma is a born performer who loves to sing, while Jad expresses himself through art and can paint in midair with his grandfather's special paintbrush.
Designed in close collaboration with local producers, creatives, and early childhood development experts, each Ahlan Simsim episode features a comedic story segment during which Basma and Jad experience emotions in situations relatable to young children, like fear of the dark during a movie night or frustration when friends don’t play by the rules of a game. Basma and Jad learn to manage their big feelings by practicing concrete strategies such as counting to five, belly breathing, and expression through art. A new video playdate format for Season 2 (August 2020) reflects the way families everywhere are staying connected during the global pandemic and helps children cope with the uncertainty so many families face. Season 2 also introduces new "Number of the Day" and "Word of the Day" segments designed to meet children’s learning needs at a time when many schools and early childhood programs are interrupted.
Ahlan Simsim is part of a broader humanitarian program of the same name—a partnership between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) —that aims to address the devastating impacts of crisis and displacement by delivering early learning and nurturing care to children and caregivers affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Through the TV show and in-person services featuring storybooks, educational materials, and caregiver-facing programming 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 and playful learning that they need to thrive. This program, generously funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the LEGO Foundation, not only addresses children’s immediate needs, but builds a strong foundation for their future wellbeing. Ahlan Simsim is poised to become the largest early childhood development intervention in the history of humanitarian response.
We know the importance of early learning, but there is a lack of research about what sorts of early childhood interventions work best in humanitarian contexts. So, we’re working with our partners at NYU’s Global TIES for Children to develop, test, and refine the best early childhood models for crisis settings. Over the course of five years, independent evaluators will measure Ahlan Simsim’s impact on children’s social-emotional skills as well as the impact of our direct services for both children and caregivers. These evaluations will double the existing evidence base about what sorts of early learning works best in crisis settings—and, by sharing lessons learned, we’ll lay the groundwork for others to adapt and build upon our models for other refugee and host communities.