Welcome Sesame: new Arabic programme to help refugee children deal with 'big feelings'

Ahlan Simsim, the Sesame Street spin-off, will feature familiar characters and some new furry faces

This image released by Sesame Workshop shows, from left, Grover, Basma, Ma'zooza and Jad with Rami Delshad, who portrays Hadi in "Welcome Sesame," a new, locally produced Arabic TV program  for the hundreds of thousands of children dealing with displacement in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.  (Sesame Workshop via AP)
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A new Arabic Sesame Street show will have its premiere on February 2, featuring well-loved characters teaching displaced children coping mechanisms.

Ahlan Simsim (Welcome Sesame in English) is a spin off of popular television show Sesame Street and its Arabic sister programme Iftah Ya Simsim (Open Sesame).

Specially designed for children between 3 and 8, Ahlan Simsim features familiar friends Elmo, Cookie Monster and Grover, and two brand new Characters Basma and Jad.

Each episode will follow Basma and Jad as they explore their world with the help of trusted adults, animated characters and friends including a baby goat named Mazooza. In one episode, Basma shares feelings of anxiety and the group learns breathing exercises to help her cope.

Although the programme will be broadcast across the region on channel MBC3, it is aimed at displaced refugee children in particular. The programme will also be shown in International Rescue Committee classrooms and clinics across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

"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."

Sesame Workshop, the charitable arm behind the Sesame Street programme, has created the show and various outreach initiatives in partnership with the IRC.

“The needs of young children are so often invisible in humanitarian settings. Currently, less than 3 per cent of all humanitarian aid supports education, and only a small fraction of that supports early education,” said Dr Sarah Smith, senior director of education at the IRC.

"Our direct services across the Syrian response region, which integrate the new Ahlan Simsim show and accompanying educational materials, provide playful early learning opportunities that can put millions of refugee children — and their new neighbours in host communities — on the path to brighter futures."

Sesame Street's first episode aired in the US in 1969. The first Arabic version of the programme aired a decade later. After a 25-year hiatus, it was brought back in 2015.

Ahlan Simsim will premiere in 20 countries around the region on February 2, and also be available on YouTube.