Photo: Sesame Workshop

Workshop with a mission: Bringing happiness and learning to millions of Syrian children

How the International Rescue Committee and Sesame Workshop are designing a childhood learning and development program for young refugees from the ground up

Potty training is not an easy task for any mother, especially a professional one working in an emergency context. My last three-day annual leave was dedicated to training my three-year-old son to give up his diapers and use the potty, a stressful experience only made easier by Elmo from Sesame Street. Through music and jingles, Sesame Street helped me better communicate with my son and accept “potty accidents.” The Sesame Street videos also helped teach me the steps and conversations I should have with him and alleviate the stress often associated with the training. Elmo has definitely made me and my son enjoy the experience and get the job done.

So, imagine my excitement when the place where I work, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and Sesame Workshop decided to join forces to bring happiness and learning to millions of refugee Syrian children and their families in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon! In a three-day workshop in May, senior leadership, technical experts and professionals from both organizations came together to discuss a program design that aims to enhance the cognitive, social, and emotional skills of Syrian and host-community children aged 0 to 8 and the skills of their parents and caregivers.

Last month I joined Sesame Workshop and IRC colleagues at a design workshop in Amman, Jordan to help create a holistic early childhood learning and development program for refugee children featuring the Sesame Street Muppets (including Grover). Photo: IRC

The workshop took place in Amman, Jordan and the topics discussed included character “Muppet” design, research to measure the social behavior change of families, how to best reach our beneficiaries, program budgets and distribution strategies. Despite the difference in operation, organizational behavior, and background, both organizations share a common mission: helping children to thrive. IRC presented its practices after six years of providing assistance to Syrian communities and families, while the Sesame team, and experts from New York University (NYU) presented their educational materials and research methodology that focused on measuring behavior change.

The program design will rely mostly on IRC’s existing programming and entry points in host communities in urban and camp settings through using culturally relevant Sesame Street content and video materials that will be developed as part of this partnership. The program will also highlight Early Child Development components and Positive Parenting programs. The video content will be based on research that measures the perceptions and preferences of language and characters, among other factors, of 280 families in Jordan and Lebanon.

No one understands children and parents better than Sesame Street. As a mother but also as somebody who works with children every day, I am very excited to be part of this partnership and be able to bring learning to children and their families across the region as well as a lot of smiles and laughter. As Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s Executive Vice President for Global Impact and Philanthropy, explained, “You (IRC) can do this without us, but we cannot do it without you.” I believe we cannot deliver this program without both agencies’ commitment and vision.

Radwa El Manssy is a Child Protection Coordinator at the IRC. Radwa manages child protection activities in Zaatari and Azraq camps in Jordan, as well as providing technical assistance to the IRC in building new program avenues outside of the camps.