Basma talking to children.

Ahlan Simsim Impact Report 

A critical need, historic response, profound impact

When an unprecedented humanitarian crisis threatened a generation’s childhood in the Middle East, Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee came together to bring early learning and nurturing care to millions of children living in conflict and crisis through the largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response: Ahlan Simsim – “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic.

The MacArthur Foundation invested $100 million; we delivered lasting change.

Transforming Lives

In 2016, the Syrian conflict raged into its sixth year, with more than 6 million people internally displaced in Syria. Over 5 million fled to neighboring countries and beyond, and nearly half were children. They had lost homes and loved ones, experienced violence, and endured the kinds of trauma that even adults struggle to process. A generation was growing up without access to quality early learning or the early childhood development (ECD) opportunities they needed to survive and thrive.

With expertise in educational media and humanitarian relief, Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee came togetther to give children the support they need to grow and flourish.

Why it Matters

For all children affected by crisis, the early years are a limited window of opportunity to help them survive the challenges they face today and help prepare them to thrive as adults.

Grover's brain.

A child’s brain develops faster in the first 8 years than at any other time, setting permanent capacities for life.

400 Million.

1 in 6 children worldwide lives in a conflict zone. That’s more than 400 million children.

61 Million

Over 61 million children live in countries affected by war in the Middle East and North Africa.

graphic of people entering a building.

Displacement makes children more vulnerable and limits their access to quality education

Pie chart with 2 percent slice.

Less than 2% of global humanitarian assistance goes to ECD in emergencies (ECDiE), while half of all displaced people are children.

graphic of hands holding 3 people.

Research also shows the solution: nurturing care and learning opportunities in these crucial early years can mitigate the effects of adversity in the early years.

Basma with a group of children.
An Audacious Investment
In 2017, the MacArthur Foundation backed Ahlan Simsim with a bold investment. Sesame Workshop and IRC won the first-ever 100&Change competition – a $100 million grant to deliver an intervention that would restore hope and opportunity to vast numbers of children affected by conflict and crisis through critical early learning and nurturing care.
The Ahlan Simsim Model:
Groundbreaking Approaches


Sherrie Westin – President and Interim CEO, Sesame Workshop — breaks down Ahlan Simsim’s unique framework.

Through Partnership and Collaboration

Sesame Workshop and IRC were joined by NYU Global TIES for Children Center as an independent evaluator leading the formal academic research on Ahlan SimsIm.

With the collaboration of over 100 passionately committed local partners — from broadcasters to civil society organizations to national ministries — this first-of-its kind initiative is now a vital part of daily life for millions of children in the Middle East — and a model for future programs that will benefit children experiencing conflict and crisis around the world.

Group of Ahlan Sim Sim characters
Groundbreaking Impact

Ahlan Simsim has achieved remarkable and measurable results

Children watching Ahlan SimSim.

Our 11-week Remote Early Learning Program yielded educational results equal to a year of in-person preschool, proving that caregivers, when supported by teachers, can successfully deliver an impactful media-integrated preschool curriculum at home.

27 Million

We’ve reached 27 million children with Ahlan Simsim, our Arabic version of Sesame Street. This includes nearly 9 million in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In those countries, 1 in every 3 children were watching the show, putting it in the top 3 of children’s shows. And those who watch Ahlan Simsim are significantly stronger in recognizing and managing their emotions. 

A parent and child coloring.

We’ve reached over 3 million children and caregivers through different program approaches in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In partnerships with 13 ministries of education, health, and social welfare, Ahlan Simsim developed curriculum, services, and content reaching more children with more resources long into the future.  

Children whispering to Ameera.

The impact study on the Ahlan Simsim show confirmed that children learned social emotional vocabulary and coping strategies that will have life-long benefits.

A parent and child with Grover

Caregivers are more responsive and nurturing with their children after taking part in our programs and engaging with our content, and have experienced improvements in their own emotional well-being.

Levels of Impact
Homechild and caregiver services | TVs and devices 
Communitypreschools and learning centers | health centers | community spaces  
Nationalcivil society organizations | ministries of education, health, and social welfare  
Regionalregional actors and systems
GlobalECD and ECDiE sectors | humanitarian sector | international community | philanthropy
Key Learnings
Ahlan Simsim set a new standard for how the world responds to the needs of children affected by conflict and crisis. Over 6 years, we’ve learned a tremendous amount.
Family watching a tv
Media is a powerful learning resource for children in crisis contexts.
Thoughtful, locally produced media is engaging, popular, and effective.
A teacher reading to a classroom.
Ahlan Simsim program models show the power of combining educational media with ECD services.
A child with adults playing in a classroom.
Our dynamic approach allowed us to adapt our programs based on learning and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resulting mix of in-person, remote, and digital programs enhanced our offering and allowed us to reach more families during a time when many ECD services stopped indefinitely.
A parent reading to a child.
In crisis contexts, caregivers, regardless of educational background, play a critical role in early education.
Remote early learning programs with the right support can be effective for children and families in vulnerable and inaccessible communities.

Dr. Hiro Yoshikawa – Co-director, NYU Global TIES for Children — describes how Ahlan Simsim is poised to reach children for years to come through scaling with national partners.

The Power of Media

From the first days of Sesame Street, Sesame Workshop’s unique contribution has been leveraging new technologies and platforms and creatively pairing them with proven storytelling and content populated with lovable characters who become children’s trusted friends. At the heart of Ahlan Simsim is the Ahlan Simsim TV show, bringing learning and joy to children across the MENA in a way only Sesame can. It’s produced locally in Jordan, with creative talent and ECD experts from diverse backgrounds developing characters, storylines, and voices that are culturally relevant and relatable.

The Muppets of Ahlan SimSIm

Developing an original cast of characters designed with thoughtful care to connect with children and families across the region.

Grover and a donnkey

Capturing cultural and historical nuances: From drawing on traditional Arabic folklore for our Juha segments to celebrating Eid with Ahlan Simsim friends, Ahlan Simsim is a world that captures the rich culture and history of the Middle East.

Video call with Basma and Jad.

Adapting to and reflecting children’s lived experiences: Working in a highly changeable context requires us to continually adapt to the shifting realities of our viewers.

Cartoon man with big mustache.

Representing a range of dialects from across the region: As the Middle East is a linguistically diverse region, we chose to use a hybrid approach to language. Following consultations with language experts, Levantine Arabic, an informal dialect likely to be used in a young child’s everyday life, was chosen as the primary language. Other dialects and regional accents are used throughout the show, with regular reoccurring segments aired in the more formal Modern Standard Arabic.

Distribution & Reach

In the words of Sesame Workshop founder Joan Ganz Cooney, “If you can’t reach them, you can’t teach them.” Distribution is critical. Strong partnerships and a strong digital presence have enabled us to expand our reach and engagement year-on-year. Our partnership with MBC3, the widely popular, free-to-air children’s TV channel, has been key to reaching audiences across 22 countries in MENA, and we are partnering with 8 other regional and national broadcasters to extend into diverse communities and cultures. On YouTube, where all episodes of Ahlan Simsim are freely available, we have more than 1 million subscribers, over 365 million views, and more than 13 million hours of watch time to date.

Children looking at a tablet device.
27 Million Children
The result was significant viewership across the MENA—over 27 million children, 9 million of whom live in the initiative’s four focus countries of Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.
For children in the region, Ahlan Simsim speaks their language. What sets it apart from other children’s programs is that it’s educational and entertaining; it reflects their culture and values. Ahlan Simsim is a unique offering in the children’s media market that kids can relate to. Close quotation mark

—Ashraf Younis
Director, MBC Group

Ahlan Simsim is the only children’s show produced in the region with local talent. Parents and educators trust Ahlan Simsim because it resonates with them, capturing nuances from the wide range of cultures in the Middle East and North Africa. Close quotation mark

—Khaled Haddad
Executive Producer

Children love Ahlan Simsim and watch frequently — 3 to 4 times a week — and most parents and caregivers watch alongside, with displaced Syrian caregivers reporting that Ahlan Simsim helps their children cope with displacement. About ¼ of all children across the MENA watch the show, and Ahlan Simsim now ranks 3rd among comparable children’s programs in the 4 implementing countries and ranks 5th in the wider MENA region.

Learn More About the TV Series
Direct ECD Services

Ahlan Simsim has reached more than 3 million young children and caregivers in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria with a wide range of ECD services. Through a combination of in-person and remote programs with educational media integrated throughout we meet the needs of children and families in ways that work best for them.

Partnership is essential to scale Ahlan Simsim and to ensure ongoing impact. We partnered with civil society organizations as well as with government ministries who oversee education, health, and daycare services to deliver, adapt, and co-design interventions and reach the children most in need with interventions that will last long beyond the project.  


We set out with 3 goals:

    • Reach more children where they are – in schools and community centers, in health clinics and in their homes

    • Create flexible models for both children and caregivers that range from in-person services to remote programs delivered over the phone and digitally.

    • Collaborate with partners across sectors to expand programming to support future generations of children in crisis.

Adaptable Program Models

For Children 

  • Preschool Models   
    The Preschool Healing Classrooms program provides children aged 3 to 6 with safe, inclusive, child-centered spaces to gain pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills and learn how to identify and manage emotions. In Lebanon, the Remote Early Learning Program delivered remote preschool through WhatsApp phone calls and teacher messages to guide and support caregivers to deliver program activities in the home. Learn more 
  • School Readiness Models 
    Across the Middle East, many children have no access to preschool; their formal education starts in first grade. Our school readiness models, co-designed in partnership with government Ministries of Education, seek to smooth the transition into Grade 1 with a heavy focus on social-emotional learning and learning through play. These programs are now integrated into the services of Ministries of Education in Iraq and Jordan ensuring these changes support children now and endure in future years. Learn more 
  • Ahlan Simsim Friends Program 
    Children need spaces for learning outside of formal schooling. Aimed at children 3-8 years old, our Ahlan Simsim Friends program provides safe, inclusive places to learn where children gather, such as health clinics, women’s centers, and community centers.

For Caregivers

  • Reach Up and Learn Models (in-person, phone-based, and group-based)
    A home visiting model where trained facilitators visit with caregivers biweekly to provide guidance on parenting and ECD. Caregivers are shown how to engage their children in playful activities using recycled, low-cost materials and storybooks.
  • Ahlan Simsim Families Program
    A highly flexible  model that targets caregivers of children 0-8 years old in informal settings. Caregiver groups are given tips on development, play, and parenting during a series of 8 or so sessions.
  • Remote Adaptations
    During COVID-19, we created an adapted to phone-call-delivered programs that used scripted guides to deliver key messages on ECD and parenting, bridging a gap in services when in person programs shut down. 
  • ECD-Health Integration Program
    This program equips healthcare providers who see children 0-5 years old with important ECD guidance and tips for caregivers, including information about developmental milestones and nutrition as well as guidance on playful learning, support for social-emotional learning, positive discipline techniques, and how to manage challenging child behavior. We also installed playful learning corners in health centers – colorful and engaging activity areas to support children’s play and development while they wait for appointments. These programs have been co-designed with Ministries of Health to meet specific local needs and integrated into national primary healthcare services to meet the families’ needs now and be sustained year on year. Learn more 
Accessible Remote Digital Models

Shifting to digital models during COVID-19 lockdowns provided an unexpected opportunity to explore, test, and evaluate new ways to engage with families. One program was delivered to groups of caregivers via WhatsApp by trained facilitators sharing messages and activities about health, ECD, well-being, and education. And our Automated Messaging Service delivers key child development messages and links to Ahlan Simsim media via text message. Caregivers are also supported through social media with FamilyCornerIRC, delivering key messages and links to Ahlan Simsim videos on Facebook and Instagram. Learn more 

For Caregivers and Children 

  • Remote Early Learning Program
    Caregivers and children in Lebanon take part in calls over 11 weeks with trained facilitators who support caregivers to deliver a preschool curriculum at home. Integrating Ahlan Simsim media materials, the program has led to large improvements across all areas of child development. Learn more 
  • ECD in Emergencies
    Following the 2020 explosion at the Port of Beirut, we rapidly adapted Ahlan Simsim content to help children and caregivers express their emotions, promote their resiliency, and harness their ability to adapt. These materials were then adapted for and deployed to families in multiple crises in response to natural disasters such asearthquakes in Morocco, Türkiye, and northern Syria and floods in Libya, and in response to conflicts in Palestine and Sudan. Ahlan Simsim materials will continue to be readily available for use in other emergencies.
Events and Exhibits

Reaching caregivers and children on a regular basis is not always possible, so we offer a variety of standalone events and exhibits that bring Ahlan Simsim directly to communities. These range from reaching caregivers with emergency response sessions and information on ECD, to providing children with stationery kits, to developing play-based exhibits in playgrounds or health centers, to visiting hard-to-reach areas with the Smile Caravan, a mobile vehicle that promotes joyful learning through puppet shows, storytelling, drawing, and coloring, as well as disability assessment and support.

Voices of Impact

Two school children.
quote markWe were lucky to be part of Ahlan Simsim. We are happy to see how the content was developed to cover all the developmental domains of the child, especially the social-emotional domain which used to be ignored. This is a wake-up call for all of us to start thinking about how children’s early education should be.quote mark

Dr. Ayham, a first-grade teacher supervisor with the Ministry of Education in Nineveh, Iraq, School Readiness Program

A family walking out of a building.
quote markI started noticing that Alaa was able to control his emotions more, particularly when he was angry. All the changes I saw in him made me so happy and I’m determined to keep using the same techniques with him and I’ll share the Ahlan Simsim messages with other moms that I know. I’m so grateful to the Ahlan Simsim team because through them I learned how to take care of myself and how to make my family happy.quote mark

-Amna, mother, Ahlan Simsim Families sessions delivered via WhatsApp in Iraq

An educator.
quote markSo far, the impact has been great, we needed this part in our curriculum. The Ahlan Simsim characters made learning easier for the children. The characters spoke the same language and used the same dialect, which allowed the children to relate immediately and felt happy watching the videos and reading the stories. Education also works on the children’s characters and builds their confidence and makes them believe in themselves.quote mark

-Sara, a teacher at the Ana Aqraa Center, Lebanon

Providers meeting in a tent.
quote markAfter taking part in the Ahlan Simsim sessions, I began to feel a change. I realized that my children need me and that I am required to protect them, to play with them, tell them stories, draw with them, encourage them and speak to them. Two years ago, I had forgotten how to smile because of all the stress we were under, but I learned how to smile again at my children. We became a cooperative and understanding family. I am really so much happier now.quote mark

-Beesan, mother of 3 children, Northeast Syria, Ahlan Simsim Families Program


Children sitting on steps.


All children deserve equal access to learning. We continue to find new ways to ensure our resources and programs are responsive and accessible, meeting children and families where they are — from classrooms and health clinics to TV and mobile devices. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we used phone calls and mobile messages to provide caregivers guidance on ECD and digital materials to support them. To address the language diversity within the region, Ahlan Simsim and our educational materials incorporate various Arabic dialects and accents and are available in Kurdish.

Ameera and a child.


In the spring of 2022, we welcomed new friend Ameera to Ahlan Simsim. Ameera loves science and basketball and is the first Muppet to use a wheelchair and crutches. Created with the guidance of education, disability, gender, and inclusion advisors, Ameera has brought visibility to the more than 12 million displaced people and 240 million children worldwide estimated to be living with disabilities. Embodying fun and kindness, Ameera challenges stereotypes and brings new perspectives, ideas, and experiences to share with her friends on Ahlan Simsim and beyond.

A child next to a ruler on a wall.


Disability should never keep a child from participating in education and learning. Physical spaces used in our programs are always accessible and we use activities and materials tailored to the abilities and needs of all children. Our program facilitators and teachers are trained in disability inclusion; being skilled in responding to a child’s individual needs and modifying activities to accommodate different abilities. We’ve created resources to empower caregivers of children with disabilities to support their children and promote positive changes, including 6 sets of practical tips.

Transformative Results

The success of our Remote Early Learning Program has shown that caregivers — with support from teachers — can effectively deliver a preschool curriculum at home. Similar virtual learning programs can now be developed and extended both regionally and globally for children facing obstacles to attending in-person, such as during a crisis, health emergency, or for families on the move.

Ahlan Simsim and related media materials add undeniable value to our direct work with families. Using the much-loved Muppets to connect and reinforce key lessons, Sesame Workshop’s educational media boosts children’s emotional development and coping skills. 

Research, Learning & Advocacy

Ahlan Simsim has nearly doubled the amount of research and evidence available on ECD in emergencies, creating limitless opportunities for these models to be adapted in other humanitarian contexts.

Our Ahlan Simsim 11-week Remote Early Learning Program integrated with Ahlan Simsim media is comparable to an entire year of in-person preschool, paving the way for a groundbreaking new approach to remote learning.

This approach has the potential to transform early learning in contexts where in-person services aren’t possible, whether due to a pandemic, conflict, natural disaster, or in rural or low-resource settings.

We have strong evidence of the power of educational mass media to improve foundational social-emotional skills, which are critical for children’s long-term success.
  • Watching Ahlan Simsim significantly increases children’s ability to identify emotions, self-regulate, and cope.
  • These “emotional ABCs” form a crucial foundation for all young children, but especially those who have experienced adversity.
  • Educational mass media can achieve key learning outcomes while reaching large numbers of children.
Ahlan Simsim’s unique combination of educational media and early childhood services is effective, laying the groundwork for others to adapt and extend similar programs.

Flexible, evidence-based, and culturally relevant early childhood services integrated with media content can support early childhood developments, strengthen learning at school and at home, and have long-term, transformative effects on individuals, families, and communities.

Learn More About Our Research

Through Ahlan Simsim, Sesame Workshop and the IRC have become trusted and valued champions for ECD in conflict and crisis settings. We work with local NGOs, national ministries, humanitarian agencies, and donors to encourage increased attention to and funding for ECD in crisis settings and to identify and address the ECD needs of children affected by crises.


Ahlan Simsim has been recognized for its educational focus and content quality; humanitarian contribution, including best practices on inclusion; and for innovation, including use of mobile technology to achieve impact. 

Looking Ahead

Ahlan Simsim is more essential than ever.

Jad and a child.
The long-term change created by Ahlan Simsim is taking hold.
Ahlan Simsim has built trust with partners and vulnerable communities throughout the region. These relationships need to be nurtured and expanded to reinforce lasting progress.
Basma and children running.
Ahlan Simsim has produced unprecedented learnings and models.
Approaches are still being delivered through government partnerships, integrated into national systems. Continued investment will give researchers the opportunity to study the effects for a generation of children over time.

The need is more profound than ever.

Children walking outside a refugee camp.
When Ahlan Simsim was launched, 65 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced; today that number is over 110 million.
Displaced families.
Right now there are more people displaced worldwide than at any time since the end of World War II.

Children are living amid more crises than ever. 

Warn torn country side.
Across the region, devastating natural disasters have shattered vital infrastructure. 
Warn torn country side.
For millions of children, violent conflict is too often a daily reality. 
A family at a refugee camp.
The average length of displacement today is 10 to 26 years. Yet less than 2% of humanitarian assistance goes to ECD in emergencies, and is very short-term. 

Ahlan Simsim has achieved the aim that Sesame Workshop, the IRC, and our partners set out to accomplish 6 years ago — but children continue to live in areas affected by conflict, without the support they need to learn, grow, and thrive. There is more to do.

David Miliband – President and CEO, International Rescue Committee — discusses the urgent need for and the powerful impact of investing in ECD in crisis and conflict contexts.

What’s Next

The Next Generations of Ahlan Simsim

We know that the first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial for brain development, yet this need is too often overlooked during crisis response. Ahlan Simsim is poised to support families living amid crisis across the region—from Gaza, to Sudan, to Yemen—where children and there caregivers are disproportionately affected.  

Now is the time to build upon momentum. The next phase of Ahlan Simsim will continue to expand educational access and support for children and families affected by crisis. Using the innovation, flexibility, research, influence, and sustainability developed and nurtured through Ahlan Simsim, we can now reach more children in more crises with more inclusive services. Because children everywhere deserve the chance to learn, play, grow, and thrive.  

Basma and Jad
27 million

For approximately $1 per child, our initiative reached over 27 million children through Ahlan Simsim media content

3 Million

For approximately $17 per person, our initiative reached over 3 million children and caregivers with ECD services


We are grateful to a broad range of supporters who have collectively contributed over $150M to deliver and deepen Ahlan Simsim’s work in MENA.

The Lego Foundation
Unilever Logo
Keating Family Foundation
Royal Film Commission of Jordan
Bezos foundation and Vroom
Van Leer Foundation
Fisher Family Foundation
The logo for Viatris