In May 2016, Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) had an ambitious idea: a program to bring early education to millions of children affected by the Syrian conflict, setting a new standard for humanitarian assistance. The MacArthur Foundation believed in our vision. Last December we became the first $100 million award recipients of 100&Change, MacArthur’s global competition to solve a critical problem of our time.
Now, that ambitious idea is becoming a reality. This month, IRC’s field staff is integrating updated versions of Sesame’s proven educational materials into IRC preschool classrooms, health centers, and home visitation programs in Jordan and Lebanon.
We’ve conducted extensive research to inform the adaptation of our materials, from storybooks to posters to video clips. They tell the story of our program: the power of Sesame’s Muppets and educational expertise, the depth of IRC’s on-the-ground experience, and the shared values that guide our partnership. Here’s a look at some examples:
Ana Sadeeq (“I am a Friend” in Arabic) is a rhyming storybook featuring Sesame Muppets that follows a young boy named Sandu as he learns that friendship isn’t always easy, but that it’s always important to be kind. The storyline—all about making new friends, resolving conflict, and appreciating differences—is relatable and relevant to the experiences of children from refugee and host communities alike.
We are committed to integrating the principle of inclusion into all aspects of our program. We redesigned Ana Sadeeq to include more female characters and we expanded their roles. Now, young girls can see themselves represented more throughout this story.
Based on feedback from IRC field staff, we also added guiding questions on every page. Facilitators and caregivers can now ask children questions like, “What does it mean to be a good friend?” and, “How are your friends similar to and different from you?” and, “How can you make your friends feel happy?”
Now, the storybook models for children how to identify, express, and manage feelings—which are precisely the important social-emotional skills that they need in order to grow and thrive.
Our original growth chart was a colorful wall hanging that allowed caregivers to measure a child’s growth alongside beloved Muppet characters.
We turned this growth chart into a tool that guides caregivers in playful, nurturing activities with their children.
Research shows that engagement with caring adults is crucial to children’s healthy social-emotional and cognitive growth. So, together with our colleagues at IRC, we added child development milestones and suggested activities to the side of the chart.
For caregivers of younger children, suggestions include, “Communicate with your child using your eyes and your smile,” and, “Tell your child stories, and ask them what they think will happen next.” For caregivers of older children, the chart offers, “Play role-playing games, like doctor and teacher,” and, “Encourage your child to invent things with everyday objects around the house.”
Our new growth chart empowers caregivers to not only track their child’s physical growth, but also play an active role in their intellectual and creative growth.
In the coming months, we will expand our direct services to reach families in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In fall 2019, we’ll launch our new Sesame TV program, an educational show that will introduce millions of children across the region to friendly, loveable Arabic-speaking characters and role models who understand their lives and experiences.
Along the way, we’re excited to learn what works—and what doesn’t. Just like the children we aim to reach, we’re constantly learning. We’ll use our research about our educational materials and other aspects of our initiative to inform our development of more effective ways to support kids and caregivers. We also look forward to sharing our findings broadly so that we—and others—can reach and teach children affected by humanitarian crises around the world.