Ahlan Simsim: a TV-show tailored to learning needs of refugee children

Ryan Donnell/Sesame Worshop Children interact with Jad, one of the main characters of the show Ahlan Simsim Ryan Donnell/Sesame Worshop Children interact with Jad, one of the main characters of the show Ahlan Simsim © Ryan Donnell/Sesame Worshop

The NGOs Sesame Workshop and IRC launch a 100 million dollars project to help refugee kids to recover from trauma

The number of refugee children globally amounted to 31 million by the end of 2018. In particular, since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, 5 million children have lost their homes and their loved ones. Those early life traumas can mark children for life if not dealt with appropriately. Moreover, the lack of an appropriate education system for refugees contributes to the high chance of facing impairments later on in their lives. These are the issues that the non-governmental organisations Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee (IRC) aim at tackling with their project “Ahlan Simsim” – meaning “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic.

This project – brought to life thanks to a 100 million dollars grant awarded by the MacArthur Foundation – aims to provide refugee kids and families with educational tools needed for learning in difficult environments. At its core is a new Arabic language TV-show called Ahlan Simsim, where funny muppets play characters that are relatable to for children who have experienced early life traumas such as forced displacement and war. For instance, the first season of the show focuses on managing powerful and complex emotions that those kids are likely to experience such as anger, fear, frustration and loneliness.

In addition, the characters and learning tools developed for Ahlan Simsim are now part of all the programs run by Sesame Workshop and the IRC. Among those there is “Reach Up and Learn” aimed at training parents on how to teach their kids through playful activities and the classroom teaching programs run in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Syria. This project is particularly important because it tackles one of the most pressing and yet underplayed issues in the world’s refugee crises: despite the incredibly high number of children affected by war, only 3% of humanitarian aid goes to education and only a little portion of that to early childhood.


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Author: Annette Savoca


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