Over 50 million children have been uprooted from their homes by war or conflict across the globe. This kind of stress, especially for small children, can have long-lasting effects. As Parentology recently reported, toxic stress can affect a child’s long term physical and mental health. This kind of extreme stress can leave children more prone to anxiety, depression or substance abuse, heart disease and diabetes. Now, Sesame Street and International Rescue Committee (IRC) are teaming up to make a difference through the creation of Ahlan Simsim, or Welcome Sesame.
The IRC, an organization originally founded by Albert Einstein, “responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.” The current refugee crisis is greater than at any time since World War II. The average displacement for refugees is almost 20 years. Half of these refugees are children, which means a generation of children is spending their childhood inside refugee camps.
Sesame Street, who has long been a leader in early childhood education programming, has been partnering with the IRC since 2016 trying to impact the issue of refugee children. They were recently able to bring their ideas to life through a contest.
The MacArthur Foundation offered $100 million dollars to any organization who was ready to solve a “big problem.” David Miliband, Chief Executive of IRC told CBS News, “We defined the global problem we wanted to tackle was trauma, toxic stress among refugee children in the Middle East.”
Sesame Street and IRC have utilized some of those funds to create, Ahlan Simsim, or Welcome Sesame. The show will eventually air 20 countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf starting in February.
The programming will contain the traditional Sesame Street emphasis on letters and numbers, as well as dealing heavily with emotions. While the main character of the show is not identified specifically as a refugee, he’s someone who’s recently moved, allowing the show to address fear, anger and loneliness through age-appropriate storylines.
Many children living inside these refugee camps have never known life outside of them. The hope is Sesame Street’s programming will be reinforced with companion books and materials in the IRC’s version of pre-school within the camps. These resources will work in companion with the IRC home visitation program that aims to assist parents and children who are growing up with so much uncertainty.