What's new on Sesame Street?

Ahlan Simsim is now providing early childhood learning and new lovable Muppets to the Middle East.

Jan 27, 2020

Sesame Street has helped children learn their ABCs, colors, numbers, and more importantly how to be kind and empathetic for over fifty years. The early childhood show that brought Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Elmo, Grover, Bert and Ernie into kids' homes and hearts also tackles tough sensitive topics that include blended families, the loss of loved ones, autism, and homelessness.

Now, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization that is behind the show is reaching out to children ages 3-8 across the Middle East. They're doing this with a brand-new locally produced Arabic version called Ahlan Simsim – which means Welcome Sesame in Arabic –  that will premiere on February 2, according to a press release from the organization. Produced in Amman, Jordan, Ahlan Simsim features writers, producers, and performers from across the region and it will premier in 20 countries.

This new production is part of a humanitarian project between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to help children cope with displacement from the Syrian crisis in a non-threatening way. The show will be available on regional children's TV station MBC3, as well as on local broadcast channels across the Middle East, and on YouTube and is primarily aimed at children living in refugee camps across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Ahlan Simsim features old familiar friends Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Grover along with two new Muppet characters Basma and Jad. Basma is an almost 6-year-old purple Muppet who loves to sing and perform. She welcomes her furry yellow friend Jad, who loves to express himself through art, to her neighborhood. In every episode, the press release explains, Basma and Jad explore their neighborhood with the help of trusted adults, friends, and an impish baby goat named Ma'zooza  who loves to eat almost anything.

The first half of each episode will consist of Basma and Jad dealing with an emotional experience like fear of the dark or friends who don't play by the rules and how to learn coping skills like counting to five, deep breathing, or expressions through art. The  second half is a variety show component (like the original series) that will reinforce what was taught.

"Ahlan Simsim's premiere season will help millions of children across the region learn how to identify and manage big feelings — skills that form a crucial developmental foundation for young children, especially those who have experienced the trauma of war and displacement," said Sherrie Westin, President of Social Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop.

"By harnessing the proven power of the Sesame Muppets, culturally relevant storylines and learning through play, Ahlan Simsim will teach children the emotional ABCs they need to overcome challenges and thrive."

The humanitarian effort combines the show with educational material, storybooks, and caregiver programming that will bring early learning opportunities to millions of children in classrooms, health clinics, or wherever they are.

The program, which was designed by a team of early childhood specialists, play and art therapists, psychologists, linguists, writers, artists, and local IRC staff in Lebanon and Jordan received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's first-ever 100&Change $100 Million award and has received additional support from The LEGO foundation. 

Sesame workshop wrote: "The Ahlan Simsim program is poised to become the largest early childhood development intervention in the history of humanitarian response."
“The needs of young children are so often invisible in humanitarian settings. Currently, less than 3 percent of all humanitarian aid supports education, and only a small fraction of that supports early education,” Dr Sarah Smith, senior director of education at the IRC told The National.

This is not the first Arabic version of Sesame Street, the first, Iftah Ya Simsim, began in 1979 followed by local versions of the show.  After a 25-year absence, it was brought back in 2015 but Ahlan Simsim is geared to a completely different audience, the 5 million children who have been impacted by the Syrian crisis.

All children need to feel safe to play and to learn. That's why this partnership with the Sesame workshop is so important. Helping kids cope with tough issues in a warm, educational, non-threatening way  is what they do best. Welcome Basma, Jad, and Ma'zooza to the Sesame Street family and let some healing begin.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.