Photo: Ryan Heffernan / Sesame Workshop
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – In a project called “the largest childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response,” a regional version of the educational program Sesame Street will make its debut, targeting displaced and refugee children across Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.
“When you look at all the aid going to the refugee crisis, less than 2 percent goes to education and a tiny sliver of that goes to the early years — understandable because most of the humanitarian response has been shelter and food and security,” Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s executive president of global impact and philanthropy, said in an interview with NPR on Friday.
The Sesame Workshop, affiliated with the children’s show Sesame Street which has educated children across the globe for nearly 50 years, partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in their attempt to reach nearly 9.4 million children refugees and displaced across Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.
A $100 million grant was provided by the MacArthur Foundation to bring the project to fruition with work to start in early January 2018.
In the regional version of Sesame Street, the characters will be taught math, reading, and social skills in both Arabic and Kurdish.
Westin said that although the characters may be different, the mission is still the same.
"The basic model is what Sesame Street has done for almost 50 years but making sure it's more reflective of their reality is what makes it so special," she told NPR.
The Sesame Workshop along with IRC will be distributing content online and on mobile devices as well as TV. Material will also be provided to clinics, childcare centers, and directly to parents.
Westin said that the most important way to help children overcome trauma is by encouraging adult-child engagement.
“It's called nurturing care. It may sound intuitive, but when parents have been through this kind of situation they are very stressed themselves,” Westin said. “We give them techniques and tools and strategies to help their children overcome the toxic stress — games, content, storybooks, apps, all sorts of things — but also an understanding of the importance of that nurturing care.”
David Miliband, President and CEO of IRC, told the New York Times in an interview last week that of billions of dollars of humanitarian aid, only about two percent goes towards education or child development.
With 12 million children under the age of eight-years-old, per the Sesame Street Workshop website, “that means an entire generation of kids is growing up displaced, living with toxic stress, and falling behind developmentally.
“Giving young children social-emotional skills and resilience will help them regardless of what comes down the pike. We believe this will become the catalyst for refugee response to focus on children and not just on the other humanitarian aid,” Westin added.