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 friends Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Grover, as well as two brand-new Muppet characters named Basma and Jad. Basma, an almost-6-year-old purple Muppet, welcomes her yellow-furred friend Jad with open arms when he moves to her neighborhood. 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. Each episode of Ahlan Simsim follows Basma and Jad as they explore their world with the help of trusted adults, animated characters, and friends like a lovable and mischievous baby goat named Ma’zooza who eats everything in sight.
Designed in close collaboration with local producers, creatives, and early childhood development experts, the first half of each Ahlan Simsim episode is 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. Each time, Basma and Jad learn to manage their feelings by practicing concrete strategies such as counting to five, belly breathing, and expression through art. The fun continues in the second half of each episode during a variety show segment, when real kids and celebrity guests join the characters to play games and sing songs that reinforce the episode’s educational content.
The new Ahlan Simsim show is part of a groundbreaking humanitarian program between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) that aims to address the devastating impacts of crisis and displacement on children across Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. The program combines the new show and in-person direct services featuring storybooks, educational materials, and caregiver-facing programming across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria and will bring playful early learning opportunities to millions of children and caregivers wherever they are—from classrooms and health clinics to TV and mobile devices. The program received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's first-ever 100&Change $100 Million award, with additional support provided by the LEGO Foundation, the first organization to step up to the MacArthur Foundation’s call for the bold philanthropy needed to transform the way the humanitarian system serves children affected by crisis. The Ahlan Simsim program 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 model for other refugee and host communities.