Sesame Workshop Partners with the International Rescue Committee to Educate Refugee Children  

Sara Vasquez
Staff Writer

The Guardian reports four shipwrecks have occurred in the Mediterranean Sea causing 110 refugees to wash up on a shore in Libya, one of them being a baby boy who died on a rescue boat. A huge fire in September in one of Greece’s largest refugee camps caused an urgent need to build a provisional camp site. However, the conditions are even worse than before. Al Jazeera states that about “8,000 people, mostly families with children, are living in tents not fit for winter.” The consistent absence of a safe environment creates much instability for refugees in these situations. Statistics by Amnesty International show that there are over 26 million refugees, and that half of them are children.

Education plays a vital role in the lives of refugee children. In an interview with CBS, David Miliband, the Chief Executive Officer of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), informs that only two percent of humanitarian aid goes to education and from that, an even smaller amount goes to educating young children. For this reason, the IRC teamed up with Sesame Workshop to develop a program to educate and address trauma and chronic stress in the lives of these children. Over the next five years, they are developing in person services and educational content in Arabic to nearly eight million kids.

The IRC’s approach to education is to target the children from a young age. The organization believes that by sending assistance to these refugee children, they can help in mitigating the harmful effects of living as a refugee and give hope to this generation. Sesame Workshop is a company that was created in 1969 with the aim to educate children through television. Their mission is to help “kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.” For five decades, Sesame Workshop has been holding difficult conversations with children and teaching them how to navigate the dialogues with care. Sesame Workshop continues to create valuable educational content for children and believes that expanding its reach to a population of displaced children can have a large impact on the whole generation.

The IRC and Sesame Workshop are working together to begin tackling the largest humanitarian issue of this generation, an initiative made possible through a grant of $100 million from the MacArthur Foundation. The planning began in 2017 with the vision of helping alleviate the global problems that are caused by trauma and toxic stress for refugee children in the Middle East. Their work consists of Sesame workshop creating new show called ‘Ahlan Simsim’ (Welcome Sesame) for the Middle East with local muppets. Scot Cameron, who runs the production of the new show, stated that this sesame series is unlike any other because it does not focus on letters and numbers, but instead on emotions such as sadness, fear, and anger. The idea is to not only identify the emotion, but also to provide concrete actions so that children know what to do when they encounter them.

The role of the IRC is to dramatically expand in person services to one million kids and their families. Early childhood centers in various refugee camps were created by the IRC to allow children for a place to play and learn through the new videos and books created by Sesame Workshop. Before COVID-19, the IRC ran home visit program to visit 3,000 refugee families each week with the goal of teaching the child and encouraging one on one interaction with parents. Additionally, the IRC provides resources and programming to the informal tented settlements outside of the refugee camps.

Currently, home visits are suspended because of COVID-19 but the IRC continues to send games and supplies to the children and their families. Additionally, the IRC reports that it is helping to deliver parenting resources through WhatsApp, a free messaging application for smart devices, and moving operations remotely to continue helping those displaced. They are also equipping caregivers with valuable Covid-19 guidelines and safety measures to encourage a safe environment, even within the camps.

Sesame Workshop reports that multi-year studies to measure the impact of this project are currently in place, so that if successful it can become a model to use all over the world. Since its conception, this program has already spread to help Rohingya refugee children in Myanmar, who now also receive valuable education despite their circumstances. Although the global pandemic has presented an unforeseen challenge, the IRC and Sesame Workshop along with other supporting organizations are working to find new ways to provide hope and imagination for the future of refugee children.

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