100&Change: 2017

Educating Children Displaced by Conflict and Persecution

Sesame Workshop & International Rescue Committee

Ahlan Simsim, a groundbreaking early child development intervention from Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), addresses the devastating impact of crisis and displacement by delivering early learning and nurturing care to children and caregivers affected by the Syrian refugee crisis and internal displacement.

Last Updated: March 2022
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Two-page overview of proposal
Competition Participation
100&Change: 2017
Current Work Location(s):
  • Iraq
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Palestine
  • Yemen
  • Turkey
  • Libya
Priority Population(s):
  • Children and youth
  • Families
  • Caregivers
  • Refugees and displaced people
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
  • 3. Good health and well-being
  • 4. Quality education
  • 10. Reduced inequalities

Executive Summary

Awarded the MacArthur Foundation’s very first 100&Change grant in December 2017, Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are implementing the largest-scale early childhood development (ECD) project in the history of the humanitarian aid system.

Ahlan Simsim reaches children and families affected by conflict and displacement across the Middle East with a unique combination of in-person and remote early learning opportunities with mass media, including a local Arabic-language version of Sesame Street. Ahlan Simsim is not only bringing hope and opportunity to a generation of children whose lives have been uprooted by conflict, it is also designed as scalable models that can serve as examples for national systems and can influence the way the humanitarian system responds to future crises around the world.

Ahlan Simsim demonstrates the effectiveness of its models through ongoing analysis and learning from implementation as well as from rigorous research being conducted by NYU Global TIES for Children as an independent evaluator. Learnings and findings on Ahlan Simsim’s ECD models inform national and international policy in order to increase investment in early childhood development in conflict and crisis settings. Ahlan Simsim collaborates with national governments and other local actors to scale these ECD service models to reach even more vulnerable children from displaced families and host communities.

Ahlan Simsim began in February 2018 with a 9-month Discovery Phase that allowed Sesame Workshop, the IRC, and NYU Global TIES to update context assessments and to initiate operational activities and that built a strong foundation for subsequent years. The program goals remain aligned with the strategic intentions of the original concept note and Capacity Assessment Report (CAR) submitted to the MacArthur Foundation in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The Discovery Phase allowed Sesame Workshop and the IRC to update the program’s design— learning more about delivering an effective and impactful project within a challenging environment. The dynamic parameters of the conflict and of the global pandemic, learning from educational and creative advisors, research, and the evolving media landscape all inform how the project updates its strategy to reach millions of children with meaningful support.

Organization Details
Lead Organization

Sesame Workshop & International Rescue Committee

website: https://www.sesameworkshop.org/
Organization Headquarters
New York, United States
Organization ID
Number of Full-time Employees
51 to 100
Annual Operating Budget
$10.1 to 25 Million

Charity, fund, non-governmental organization, religious institution, school, or other entity

Organizations may provide budget and employee data based on this proposal or the organization as a whole. For more information on this proposal or organization, please email us.


Ahlan Simsim has now reached over 5 million children in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria with early childhood educational content through the Ahlan Simsim television series, and an additional 12 million children across the region. In 2021, the show was nominated for an International Emmy and a Global Mobile Award. The project has now provided direct early childhood development services to over 400,000 children and caregivers who have experienced disruptions to early learning due to conflict, displacement, and, in addition, the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, we continue to support government partners to strengthen their early childhood development services which will continue to serve children and families beyond the life of the project. As we enter our fifth year, 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.

COVID-19 Response

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.

COVID-19 materials/resources are now available on the Ahlan Simsim website: https://ahlansimsim.org/resources/caring/ and YouTube channel: عادات صحية للأطفال

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.

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