At the recent International Rescue Committee (IRC) Annual Dinner, the most impressive part of the evening was a report on an innovative early childhood intervention program organized by the IRC and Sesame Workshop in the Middle East, a region torn by conflict and war.
Founded in 1933 by Albert Einstein to assist German victims and enemies of Nazism, the IRC works in more than 50 countries to help people affected by humanitarian crises survive, recover, and rebuild their lives. The IRC helps to restore health, safety, education, economic well-being, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster, and it works to ensure that women and girls have an equal chance to succeed.
Sesame Workshop has worked for over 50 years at the intersection of education, media, and research, creating joyful experiences that enrich minds and expand hearts. With a mission to help children everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder, Sesame reaches families in more than 150 counties with playful early learning to empower each generation to build a better world.
There has been much written about the need for nonprofit leaders to partner with one another, and it’s heartening to observe that this partnership has resulted in the largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response. Funded primarily by the MacArthur Foundation, the IRC and Sesame are assisting children impacted by conflict and displacement across the Middle East and North Africa in 15 countries including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. The program integrates direct intervention for families affected by crisis with engaging educational media from a new TV show called Ahlan Simsim, an Arabic-language version of Sesame Street.
Ahlan Simsim teaches children to manage their feelings by practicing concrete strategies such as counting to five, belly breathing, and expression through art. The program was also designed to meet children’s literacy and numeracy needs while many schools and early childhood programs were interrupted.
Last year, the TV show reached 23 million children across the region, and direct services resulting from the show reached more than a million children and caregivers. Evaluations have shown that a combination of an 11-week remote preschool program combined with Ahlan Simsim media is comparable to an entire year of in-person preschool.
Nearly 90 percent of interviewed parents have reported that Ahlan Simsim episodes have taught their children new emotional vocabulary, and over 80 percent agreed that their child was applying the emotion management strategies taught in the show. Likewise, over 90 percent of caregivers reported that children learned how to apply new strategies to help them regulate their emotions, emphasize with others, and overcome daily challenges.
In describing one of the new Muppets created for the program, Sherrie Weston, President of Sesame Workshop, said, “At a time when more children than ever before are affected by conflict and displacement, Ameera highlights the urgent need for creative and flexible approaches to delivering playful learning and early education to communities affected by crisis.”
With over 43 million children having been forcibly displaced from their homes, and one in six children living in conflict zones, the leaders of two prominent nonprofit organizations have partnered on an effective and impactful program that is reaching and helping millions of vulnerable children in the Middle East. It is results like these that help to debunk theories that philanthropic programs are less effective than technological innovations funded by the marketplace and that inspire other leaders to collaborate to achieve bigger wins for communities.