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. 

Roaa, a 3-year-old girl in Tripoli, Lebanon, watches an Ahlan Simsim video at home with her family.
Photo: IRC

Since 2018, the International Rescue Committee and Sesame Workshop—the nonprofit, educational organisation behind Sesame Street— have partnered on an innovative early childhood development programme called Ahlan Simsim. Through the unique combination of IRC-led direct services and mass media, including a brand new Arabic-language Sesame Street, we work together to give millions of refugee and displaced children and their families in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq the support they need to cope with crises and build a brighter future.

Ahlan Simsim during COVID-19

The pandemic will hit displaced and vulnerable families the hardest, including those whom Ahlan Simsim serves. So while in-person programmes have been put on hold for safety concerns, we’ve adapted to use digital tools to reach children and their families directly in their homes. 

We know that the best way to reach young children during an emergency is by supporting their caregivers. We equip parents to create a nurturing and predictable home learning environment that fosters children's resilience during times of crisis. We also provide caregivers with tools to help them manage their own stress. 

In coordination with Sesame Workshop and using characters and animation from the Ahlan Simsim TV show, we have adapted resources that caregivers can use at home. Via WhatsApp, caregivers receive key COVID-19 awareness messages as well as age-specific play-based activities to support their children’s development. These activities focus on social-emotional learning, health, hygiene, and language skills. 

Watch below as caregivers use Ahlan Simsim activities with their young ones. In the midst of COVID-19—alongside the crises they have already had to contend with—these caregivers teach their children the alphabet, talk about emotions, and ultimately give them the skills they need to heal and thrive.

An IRC health worker examines a young child suffering from malnutrition as people return to their village after fleeing fighting. 
Photo: David Belluz/IRC