New research from NYU Global TIES for Children shows substantial impact on children’s language, numeracy, and social-emotional development from AhlanSimsim programs. AhlanSimsim (“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. The findings demonstrate the power of integrating educational media with early childhood development services, with significant implications for delivering early learning in humanitarian and other contexts where traditional in-person schooling is not possible. 

Launched with the support of the MacArthur Foundation’s first-ever $100 million 100&Change award, and additional support from the LEGO Foundation, AhlanSimsim is the largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response, reaching more than 1 million children and caregivers through direct early childhood services and playful learning in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria and over 23 million children across the Middle East and North Africa through a locally produced Arabic language version of Sesame Street. Key learnings from the new research announced today include: 

“These studies, the result of years of collaboration show how quality early childhood programming can have impressive positive impacts on caregivers and young children in a region affected by displacement and crisis,” said Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Ph.D., NYU Steinhardt Professor and Co-Director, Global TIES for Children, New York University. “They provide new evidence that innovations in educational media and in leveraging caregivers’ support of learning can improve children’s holistic development. This research makes landmark contributions to the science base for early childhood development in the Middle East.” 

A commitment to learning is at the core of AhlanSimsim, with a robust research plan built into the initiative’s design and an intent to share learnings to inform and inspire early childhood development programs for children in crisis and conflict settings worldwide. NYU conducted three rigorous randomized controlled trials on AhlanSimsim programming, the results of which can be found here 

"Five years ago, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Sesame Workshop came together to give children affected by conflict and crisis in the Middle East the support they need to learn, grow and thrive. AhlanSimsim is not just the single largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response: new research published today shows the impact of this groundbreaking initiative on children. Our aim was to set a new standard for early childhood learning: we believe this research shows that combining the IRC’s expertise in communities affected by crisis with the proven impact of Sesame’s educational media has exceptional impact. The task now is to spread the message and catalyze lasting change for all children affected by crisis around the world,” said David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee. 

“There is no time in a child’s life more important than their first five years, when their brain is rapidly developing and most sensitive to its environment. We know that repeated exposure to trauma can inhibit brain development with long-term repercussions, but we can mitigate these effects through quality early childhood development and nurturing care,” said Sherrie Westin, President, Sesame Workshop. “By combining the power of media with direct services and extensive collaboration with refugee and host communities, we hope that the success of AhlanSimsim will become a model for reaching children affected by conflict and crisis, wherever they are.” 

Conflict, violence, and other crises have left a record 36.5 million children displaced from their homes – the highest number recorded since World War II. Only 31% of these children have access to pre-primary education, which means the majority will grow up without access to learning opportunities. Integrating educational media with direct support for families in crisis, Ahlan Simsim provides transformational early childhood development and playful learning that is now part of daily life for millions of children in the Middle East. AhlanSimsim is laying the groundwork for other efforts to scale, adapt, and build on these models for other humanitarian contexts. 

In the UK, the International Rescue Committee builds upon our global education initiatives, and also supports the educational needs of children who seek sanctuary in the UK through the Healing Classrooms programme.

Launched in 2022, the Healing Classrooms programme provides training and resources to teachers and support-staff to help them to better support newly arrived refugee and asylum-seeking children in their classrooms. So far, the programme has supported over 800 educators, in 374 schools across the UK, in-turn reaching nearly 3000 refugee and asylum-seeking children. 

For thousands of refugee children who have fled conflict and found safety in the UK - including recently arrived Ukrainians - teachers play an important role in driving their students’ English-language skills, cultural and social adaptation, and integration into their new communities, as well as supporting their wellbeing. The Healing Classrooms approach helps to create a safe and predictable environment to learn and foster development and integration, whilst helping children to cope with the consequences of conflict and displacement.

For children affected by conflict and crisis, whether based in the UK, the Middle East, or beyond, access to quality, tailored education initiatives can help to lay the foundations for all displaced children to reach their full potential. 

To learn more about AhlanSimsim, visit here.You can also watch episodes on AhlanSimsim‘sYouTube channel and explore the library of resources at