Ahlan Simsim, the early childhood development initiative launched in 2018 through a partnership between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), has now reached one million children with direct services across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. That achievement complements the 23 million children reached across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by Ahlan Simsim’s award-winning TV program of the same name, which means “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic. Since being awarded the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s historic $100 Million 100&Change grant five years ago this month, Ahlan Simsim remains the largest early childhood development initiative in the history of humanitarian response.
Ahlan Simsim combines the acclaimed mass media and early education experience of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, with the humanitarian technical expertise of the IRC to support the early childhood development of children impacted by conflict and crisis across the Middle East. Through the locally-produced version of Sesame Street and direct services in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, Ahlan Simsim is reaching families wherever they are—from classrooms and health clinics to TVs and mobile devices—with vital educational resources that children need to thrive. Ahlan Simsim is not only bringing critical early learning and nurturing care to children and host communities affected by displacement, but the program is also designed as a scalable approach to change the way the humanitarian system responds to the needs of young children affected by conflict and crisis around the world.
The first five years of a child’s life are pivotal for their cognitive and social-emotional development. But for millions of children across the Middle East region and their families, those crucial years have been marred by the violence and trauma of displacement. Ahlan Simsim meets that challenge head-on, providing critical services immediately while also strengthening national systems that support children in the long term for year-on-year sustained impact through partnerships with local partners and Ministries of Health, Education and Social Development.
“At a time when more children than ever before are affected by conflict and displacement, Ahlan Simsim is setting a new standard for effective, scalable early childhood development programs in crisis settings,” said Sherrie Westin, President of Sesame Workshop. “More than half of displaced Syrian children in Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq are watching Ahlan Simsim, and today’s milestone of one million reached by direct services speaks to Ahlan Simsim’s unique ability to reach children at scale with playful learning and nurturing care.”
“The IRC-Sesame Workshop Ahlan Simsim program is the largest early childhood development program in a humanitarian setting,” said David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC. “The milestone of the millionth child reached through direct services, alongside the 23 million children through the Ahlan Simsim show, is a moment of pride, but also a time to recommit to the goal of helping all children affected by war survive, recover and gain control of their futures. The evidence-based programing in the Middle East shows what can be done through determined partnership and innovative programing. This is real action to prevent a lost generation of children in the Middle East.”
NYU’s Global TIES for Children serves as the independent research partner for Ahlan Simsim, conducting rigorous evaluations of the implementation of the program and its impact on children and families and building the scientific evidence base on how best to support young children’s development in humanitarian settings. Ahlan Simsim is made possible by generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with additional support from the LEGO Foundation. The launch of the initiative’s TV show was covered by outlets including 60 Minutes and The New York Times.