A new version of the show will begin airing for an audience that, less than a decade ago, didn’t exist: children displaced by the war in Syria and their neighbors in the communities where many of the refugees have fled or sought asylum. “At this point, there are lots of 7-year-olds who were born as refugees from Syria” and remain far from permanent resettlement.
…Since the start of the conflict, in 2011, nearly seven of every 10 residents of Syria have been forced from their homes. More than 11 million have fled to unfamiliar parts of Syria or to the countries across its borders, with only around 150,000 permanently resettled. They are now the largest displaced population in the world.
…Parents often carry the trauma of forced migration with them in unexpected ways, and a childhood of makeshift housing, isolation from an extended community of familiar faces, and few safe places to play can affect not only children’s behavior and learning skills but also brain development, gene expression and the ability to build the fundamental tools of resiliency. “It can be very hard to moderate, or to cope,” said Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s president of social impact and philanthropy. Preliminary research conducted in Jordan and Lebanon found that displaced children have trouble finding the language to express their emotions. They describe what they feel only very broadly: sad, happy, scared.
The show will focus on identifying and managing emotions, and will be coupled with thousands of outreach workers going to clinics, community centers, homes and other gathering spaces in the four countries, where they will meet with children, parents and caregivers to provide support and extend many lessons of the series.
…Just as American “Sesame Street” teaches counting and the alphabet before deeper literacy and numeracy, the new series, called “Ahlan Simsim,” or “Welcome Sesame,” will start with the basics. “We want this first season to dive into identifying different emotions, like frustration and anger, nervousness and loneliness, fear,” Scott Cameron, an executive producer at Sesame Workshop, said. “But we also have to make that entertaining. And we have to do that without, in the case of fear, terrifying the kids.”
…We want this project to be a model for humanitarian response not just in the Middle East,” Ms. Westin added, “but for refugee children wherever they may be.”