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 the Syrian conflict. The newest locally produced international version of Sesame Street, Ahlan Simsim introduces children to Arabic-speaking characters and role models through stories and experiences they can relate to. The exuberant and colorful cast is led by Basma and Jad, two nearly-six-year-old monsters who recently met and became best friends when Jad moved into Basma’s neighborhood. 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. Produced in Jordan, Ahlan Simsim features an all-local cast and crew.
Ahlan Simsim is part of a groundbreaking comprehensive program of the same name from Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee. Using in-person services like home visits and learning centers in addition to the TV show and related video content, the Ahlan Simsim program brings early learning and nurturing care to millions of children and caregivers in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria who have been affected by the Syrian conflict. Funded by an audacious investment of $100 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with additional funding from the LEGO Foundation, Ahlan Simsim is poised to become the largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response.
An unprecedented 70.8 million people are displaced worldwide, nearly half of whom are children. Within that global crisis, Syria accounts for more refugees than any other country, creating a lost generation. For children, early adversity like displacement is linked to poor physical and mental health and lasting deficits. But children are remarkably resilient, and by providing them with quality early learning and nurturing care through programs like Ahlan Simsim, we can put them on a path to a brighter, more prosperous future.
We’ve learned from extensive formative research and consultation with early childhood development advisors that children in the Syrian response region need support in building social-emotional skills, like identifying and managing their emotions. All children need these skills to grow and thrive, and they are especially important to develop in children who have faced traumatic experiences. That’s why Season One of Ahlan Simsim will focus on the “emotional ABCs,” showing practical self-regulation techniques like belly-breathing, counting to five, and “drawing it out” to help kids name and manage their big feelings.
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.