Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are implementing the largest-scale early childhood development (ECD) initiative in the history of humanitarian aid.
Ahlan Simsim (“Welcome Sesame” in Arabic), is reaching millions of children and families affected by conflict and displacement across the Middle East through unique and impactful early learning opportunities. By combining mass media, including an Arabic-language version of Sesame Street, with direct services and extensive collaboration with refugee and host communities, Ahlan Simsim provides transformational early childhood development and playful learning that is now part of daily life for millions of children in the Middle East and North Africa.
Research from NYU Global TIES for Children shows substantial impact on children’s language, numeracy, and social-emotional development from Ahlan Simsim programs. The findings demonstrate the power of integrating educational media with early childhood development services, with significant implications for delivering early learning in humanitarian and other contexts where traditional in-person schooling is not possible.
Through its growing reach and proven impact, Ahlan Simsim provides hope and opportunity to a generation of children whose lives have been uprooted by conflict, in addition to laying the groundwork for other efforts to scale, adapt, and build on these models for other humanitarian contexts.
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Ahlan Simsim has now reached over 9 million children in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria with early childhood educational content through the _Ahlan Simsim_ television series, and over 27 million children across the Middle East and North Africa. The show has been recognized for educational focus and innovation, content quality, humanitarian contribution, and leveraging technology with awards from WISE, the Anthem Awards, Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, and nominations from the Kidscreen Awards, International Emmy Awards, Prix Jeunesse International, and Global Mobile Awards.
The project has provided direct early childhood development services to more than 3 million children and caregivers in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria who have experienced disruptions to early learning due to conflict and displacement, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through research evaluations conducted by NYU Global TIES for Children, findings demonstrate how quality early childhood programming with media integration can have positive impacts on children and caregivers.
Ahlan Simsim’s 11-week remote preschool program produced statistically and developmentally significant impacts on children, comparable to a year of in-person preschool programs. NYU also found that watching the show significantly increased children’s ability to identify emotions and apply a simple regulation and coping strategy.
At the same time, over 200 episodes of the _Ahlan Simsim_ show will continue to be available to children through broadcast and YouTube and government partners have strengthened their childhood development services with Ahlan models and content which will continue to serve children and families beyond the life of the project. As we aim to continue our work, Ahlan Simsim seeks to sustain, deepen, and expand our impact to ensure lasting improvements in the lives of young children affected by conflict and crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored Ahlan Simsim’s flexibility and our media content’s ability to reach children with early education when in-person services are not possible. In our immediate response, we distributed critical health and hygiene messages in Arabic, Kurdish, and Turkish, and curated relevant existing content and created new content for our broadcasters, the Ahlan Simsim YouTube and social media channels, and our direct services delivered by IRC and other partners.
When Ahlan Simsim’s in-person services were paused due to the pandemic, our in-country teams adapted our service models to reach families by phone, SMS, and WhatsApp—a program adaptation that will inform future ECD interventions in crisis settings where in-person services are not possible. Additionally, we remotely produced additional broadcast specials to give the region’s children the tools and support they need to face the pandemic, and launched Ahlan Simsim’s second season in August 2020 with new video playdate formats and storylines that children experiencing the effects of the pandemic can relate to.
Racial and Ethnic Injustice Response
Inclusion is central to both Sesame Workshop’s and IRC’s missions, which duly aim to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable and marginalized children and the adults who care for them. The Ahlan Simsim program is committed to ensuring the services we offer and the content we create are inclusive of contributors and recipients of diverse experiences, perspectives, and characteristics, including gender. Our approach to inclusion ensures access, representation, and meaningful participation of diverse contributors in order to create a program that is rich and impactful.