Arabic Sesame Street Aims to Help Refugees

Ahlan Simsim (Welcome Sesame) is designed to help children affected by crisis and displacement

A brand-new, locally produced version of Sesame Street or Ahlan Simsim (“Welcome Sesame” in Arabic) premieres this month on regional children’s TV station MBC3, as well as on YouTube and local broadcast channels across the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

The new 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.

Specially designed for children ages 3–8, Ahlan Simsim features familiar characters Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Grover, as well as two new characters named Basma and Jad. Basma, an almost-six-year-old purple Muppet, welcomes her yellow-furred friend Jad with open arms when he moves to her neighborhood.

Each episode 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. The broader humanitarian program, also called Ahlan Simsim, 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 receive them—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 Ahlan Simsim program is poised to become the largest early childhood development intervention in the history of humanitarian response. ”Ahlan Simsim’s premiere season will help millions of children across the region learn how to identify and manage big feelings— skills that form a crucial developmental foundation for young children, especially those who have experienced the trauma of war and displacement,” said Sherrie Westin, president of social impact and philanthropy, Sesame Workshop. ”By harnessing the proven power of the Sesame Muppets, culturally relevant storylines, and learning through play, Ahlan Simsim will teach children the emotional ABCs they need to overcome challenges and thrive.”

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 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 needs of young children are so often invisible in humanitarian settings. Currently, less than 3% of all humanitarian aid supports education, and only a small fraction of that supports early education,” said Dr. Sarah Smith, senior director of education at the IRC.

“Our direct services across the Syrian response region, which integrate the new Ahlan Simsim show and accompanying educational materials, provide playful early learning opportunities that can put millions of refugee children—and their new neighbors in host communities—on the path to brighter futures.”

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