Sesame Street to launch Arabic-language show for refugee children to help them deal with trauma

Basma, a nearly six-year-old purple Muppet with pigtails, loves to dance. She can’t always find the words to express herself properly, and so reverts to the Arabic idiom, “Yella!” (let’s go), when she wants to set off on a new adventure.

In February next year Basma will be joined by Jad, who’s new to the Ahlan Simsim (Welcome Sesame) neighbourhood.

He’s a bright yellow colour, and expresses himself through visual arts, painting in mid-air using his grandfather’s paintbrush that he brought with him from where he used to live.   

Basma and Jad, along with Ma’zooza the baby goat, are two of the main characters for Ahlan Simsim, a new Arabic-language show from the creators of Sesame Street targeted at refugee children across the Middle East.

They’ll be joined by some of the classic children’s shows colourful mainstays such as Elmo, Gover and the Cookie Monster.  

Producers hope the show will help the millions of children displaced across the region deal with the traumas they face. 

“We know how important it is for children to see their own lives and experiences reflected on-screen,” executive producer Scott Cameron said in a statement earlier this week.  

From the show, too, they can "“learn all about big feelings and how to manage them through coping strategies like counting to five and belly breathing,” he added.

Last year the producers of the show held a series of workshops across Lebanon and Jordan, bringing together play and art therapists, psychologists, writers and early childhood specialists to brainstorm ideas for the new show, Mr Cameron explained.  

It’s not the first time Sesame Street characters have been broadcast to Arabic-speaking audiences.

Iftah Ya Simsim (Open Sesame), an international co-production of the hit American show, ran from 1979 until 1990, when the first Gulf War brought the run to an end. It was revived in 2015 across nine regional stations.  

Ahlan Simsim is funded by a $100 million grant, announced in late 2017, from the US-based MacArthur Foundation to the Sesame Workshop and NGO the International Rescue Committee (IRC).  

However, it is the first time a Sesame Street co-production has targeted a refugee audience. The show will look to provide accessible education to a vulnerable child population for whom full-time education is often sporadic.

IRC President David Miliband described the grant at the time of its donation as “an incredible validation of our determination to put education centre-stage in humanitarian settings.”   

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