How Sesame Workshop Uses Research to Shape Ahlan Simsim Content

By Kim Foulds, Vice President of Content Research & Evaluation, Sesame Workshop

Basma, Jad, and Ma’zooza explore with a new friend on Season 3 of

Since Sesame Workshop’s inception, formative research has always been at the heart of our approach. Sesame Street was the first children’s show to use research to inform production, and formative research has been integral to building Ahlan Simsim, our program supporting the early childhood development (ECD) needs of families affected by crisis and conflict in the Middle East, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee.

Formative research helps us learn about our audiences; it brings the voice of…

Jad making new friends in Amman, Jordan.
Jad making new friends in Amman, Jordan. Credit: Ryan Donnell / Sesame Workshop

Year Two of Ahlan Simsim was a year of firsts. In 2019, Ahlan Simsim reached beyond Jordan and Lebanon into Syria and Iraq and across the Middle East to offer children affected by conflict and displacement hope for a better future through our unique integration of in-person early learning opportunities with mass media. We finalized the first season of Ahlan Simsim, our brand-new, local version of Sesame Street, and prepared for its debut, introducing our new Ahlan Simsim Muppet characters Basma and Jad to the world.

By Sherrie Westin, President of Social Impact & Philanthropy, Sesame Workshop

Basma’s puppeteer, Hind Jaal, remotely tapes a scene from the new broadcast special, “Ahlan Simsim: Friends Time”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, we know it’s those who are already the most vulnerable who are most at risk. That’s especially true for young children, whose needs are too often overlooked in times of crisis.

With so many children out of school and without access to in-person learning spaces, there’s an urgent need for innovative approaches to ensuring that young children still have access to early education during this pandemic. …

For young children who have experienced war and been uprooted from their homes, education can be a lifeline.

By Marianne Stone, Regional Program Director for Ahlan Simsim
Originally published on

Gargur and a new friend practice handwashing in Amman, Jordan.

Early childhood education is critical for all children, particularly during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. For children who have experienced war and displacement — many of whom have lived their whole lives as refugees — it can be a lifeline, healing emotional and development wounds caused by years of trauma.

Since 2018, the International Rescue Committee and Sesame Workshop — the nonprofit, educational organization behind Sesame Street — have partnered on an innovative early childhood development program called Ahlan Simsim. Through the unique combination of IRC-led…

We’ve designed brand-new characters that children in the Middle East can relate to.

By Scott Cameron, Executive Producer of Ahlan Simsim

For the past year and a half, we’ve been hard at work developing Ahlan Simsim (“Welcome Sesame”), a brand-new, locally produced version of Sesame Street for children across the Middle East, premiering in February 2020. The show is part of our broader humanitarian initiative with the International Rescue Committee, which brings early learning and support to families affected by displacement in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Anytime we create a new local Sesame Street show, we bring together experts from the region to identify the most pressing needs of the children we…

To see the true impact of our program, we look to the children and families we’re reaching.

Ahlan Simsim activities at an IRC child-friendly space in Mafraq, Jordan. (Andrew Oberstadt/IRC)

It’s been a year of major milestones for Ahlan Simsim. Last November, Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) began the direct services component of our joint program. We are now delivering early learning to children across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria through the IRC’s network of centers and home visit programs.

This year, we also finished production on Season One of our brand-new Arabic version of Sesame Street, participated in global public events, and garnered international media coverage to highlight the need for early learning programs in crisis contexts. And we catalyzed additional support for children affected by…

Ahlan Simsim means “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic — and we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve chosen Ahlan Simsim as the official name of Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) humanitarian program in the Syrian response region. Our program, made possible by a generous $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, will reach children and caregivers wherever they are — from classrooms to health clinics to mobile devices — delivering vital early education and nurturing care to those affected by displacement.

Ahlan Simsim reflects the welcoming spirit embedded throughout our program, both through the direct services offered in partnership…

Ahlan Simsim

Sesame Workshop and the IRC’s joint humanitarian program, bringing vital early education to refugee and host community children in the Syrian response region.

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