Ahlan Simsim: Stories of Impact

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

Ahlan Simsim
3 min readNov 6, 2019


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 displacement: inspired by the MacArthur Foundation’s audacious philanthropy and Ahlan Simsim’s bold approach to early education for children in crisis, the LEGO Foundation awarded Sesame Workshop an additional $100 million, which enables us to expand our programs and further promote early child development in humanitarian settings.

We count these among the many exciting, broad-strokes successes of our program thus far. But to see the true depth and magnitude of our impact, we look to the stories of the children and families who are participating in Ahlan Simsim — like Sara, a young girl living in Arsal, Lebanon.

Sara and her mother Safiya (names changed to protect privacy)

When their home in Syria was destroyed, Sara and her family fled to Lebanon with nothing but the clothes they could carry. “Our life was full of sadness. We were alone and afraid all the time,” says her mother, Safiya. Now, the family of seven lives in a 4x4 meter tent in Arsal.

In December 2018, Sara began attending Ahlan Simsim sessions at the IRC’s Safe Healing and Learning Space in Arsal, a bright and friendly classroom where the walls are covered with children’s drawings. There, in the care of IRC’s Ahlan Simsim facilitators, Sara and other refugee children play educational games, watch Arabic-language Sesame content, and read Sesame storybooks. “I had lots of fun with my friends during the activities,” Sara says. “It made me and my friends get to know each other better and play together.”

“She was so happy and excited,” her mother recalls about the first time Sara came home from the center. “She told her sisters about it and practiced the activities with them at home.”

Sara’s family still faces the daily hardships of displacement. But Ahlan Simsim offers them hope and supports their wishes for Sara’s continued growth: “I hope Sara can keep learning, and that she lives in peace together with her family,” her mother says.

In the first year of direct services, Ahlan Simsim made meaningful impacts for thousands of children like Sara. But this is just the beginning. As we look ahead to the coming years of this program, we think of the growing number of displaced children around the world — 31 million and counting. To these children, and to the families and communities who support them, we’re determined to bring joy, hope, and opportunity. By surrounding children and caregivers with vital learning experiences and nurturing care, we help them tap wells of resilience that run deeper than any conflict, creating a brighter future for a generation of children whose wellbeing can’t wait.

— by René Celaya, Managing Director, Ahlan Simsim

Children in Azraq camp in Jordan. (Ryan Donnell/Sesame Workshop)



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.