Amidst ongoing conflicts and crises in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Sesame Workshop are unveiling  a landmark approach to transforming the trajectory of the lives of children affected by conflict and crisis. This approach is highlighted in the IRC’s report, Transforming Tomorrow: Innovative Solutions for Children in Crisis, released today in Arabic, that urges the global community to invest in new approaches to crisis response. The report showcases the significant impact of the Ahlan Simsim initiative—the largest Early Childhood Development (ECD) intervention in the history of humanitarian response—reaching millions of children and caregivers across the MENA region.

Since its launch in 2018, Ahlan Simsim has provided vital early childhood support to the young children across the MENA region affected by conflict and crisis, supporting them to learn, grow and thrive.   By combining the expertise of the IRC and Sesame Workshop Ahlan Simsim is delivering technically sound, scalable and impactful direct services and media programming and the Transforming Tomorrow report highlights the success of the initiative in delivering transformative change at scale. For example, the Ahlan Simsim 11-week remote preschool program in Lebanon produced significant improvements in children's literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills, comparable to a year of in-person preschool.

Su'ad Jarbawi, Regional Vice President for the MENA region at the IRC, emphasizes the urgency and importance of early childhood interventions:

"Early childhood interventions have long been understated despite overwhelming evidence of their transformative impact. Through six years of the Ahlan Simsim initiative, The IRC and Sesame Workshop have implemented innovative interventions, with record impact, in the most challenging of crisis. Ahlan Simsim has centered attention on the child and their caregiver by working with local partners across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Looking into the future, we hope to expand the Ahlan Simsim offering to other contexts such as Yemen and Palestine. We are acutely aware of the mounting needs in Gaza where half of the population is made up of children.   They require our immediate attention and comprehensive support, including vital psychosocial services, to help them overcome the trauma they have endured. We are committed to ensuring that every child has the chance to learn, grow, and thrive, no matter the circumstances."

Ministerial Support and Regional Commitment

H.E. Wafa Saed Bani Mustafa, Minister of Social Development, Jordan, said:

"We are excited about the development of Jordan's first national childcare policy by the NCFA in partnership with the IRC. This policy will provide safe, nurturing environments for children and empower working women. It represents a collaborative effort to create a sustainable and inclusive framework benefiting all Jordanian families."

H.E. Dr. Hector Hajjar, Minister of Social Affairs, Lebanon, said:

"The Ministry of Social Affairs is committed to coordinating national efforts to support early childhood development. Our focus on cross-sector collaboration ensures that the needs of all children, including the most vulnerable, are met effectively."

On behalf of H.E. Ibrahim Namis Al-Jubouri, Iraqi Minister of Education, Deputy Minister Dr. Mahdi Saleh Al-Awadi, said:

"In Iraq, we have successfully scaled an [Ahlan Simsim] school readiness program for both host and displaced populations. Our commitment to early childhood education is reflected in our national strategy, ensuring every child has the opportunity to thrive."

To respond to the crisis in Gaza, the IRC and Sesame Workshop are exploring new content to support children’s and caregivers’ mental health. Almost all of the more than one million children in Gaza now require mental health and psychosocial support—a need that has doubled since before the recent escalation. With thousands injured and many more displaced by the conflict, it is critical to prioritize mental health support services for children to help them cope with the trauma and loss they are experiencing.

Key recommendations from the new report released in its Arabic-language version today have timely relevance for donors, implementers and policymakers in the ECD sector and far beyond:  

DEDICATE FOCUS TO CHILDREN AND CAREGIVERS: Establish effective strategies to meaningfully engage affected communities. Establish or empower specific forums for assessing the comprehensive needs of children and caregivers—who are predominantly women—where related challenges and solutions can be discussed. This can be achieved by mandating interdisciplinary decision making across education, health, nutrition and protection policy and programming. Ensure that funds allocated will maximize the needs and voices of the most marginalized. 

FUND NIMBLE SOLUTIONS: Enable investment strategies that encourage prototyping, micro-pilots, and pivots. Structure funding investments around outcomes-driven approaches to be responsive to changing contexts and unforeseen opportunities. This means encouraging adaptive management practices and shoring up risk appetite for testing. Failure should be seen as a route to learning and iterating. Develop infrastructure and accountability to guide funding that puts the outcomes and the needs of people at the center rather than assumed solutions.

LINK FUNDING, RESEARCH, AND DATA: Fund evidence generation to learn what works, for whom and at what cost, linked to data-based needs. Allocate funding for evidence generation specifically in humanitarian settings. This requires increasing commitment to learning and research that leads to improved practice and policy. Invest in collecting and generating population data as well as monitoring and learning feedback across the lifecycle, disaggregated by gender, age, and ability.

We call upon Prime Minister Offices and Ministries of Finance to empower Education, Health, and Social Development leaders to advance these recommendations.

We call upon government actors to work alongside humanitarian response agencies such as OCHA, UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR, and the World Food Programme to ensure the most vulnerable populations are reached with the most impactful and cost-efficient approaches.

We call upon national-level leaders to work hand in hand with public donor financing, led by the World Bank and complemented by regional multilateral and private sector investments.



Ahlan Simsim, or “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic, is an initiative created by Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to deliver early childhood development and learning to children affected by conflict and crisis in the Middle East. Launched with the support of the MacArthur Foundation’s first-ever $100 million 100&Change award, and additional support from the LEGO Foundation, Ahlan Simsim has reached more than 3 million children and caregivers with direct early childhood services and playful learning in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria and over 27 million children across the Middle East and North Africa have watched the locally produced Arabic language version of Sesame Street.


The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC works in more than 50 countries and in 28 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at  and follow the IRC on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook.