The Sesame Street puppets have done much for children over the years. They have taught them the alphabet. They have taught them to count. They have taught them that it is acceptable for two men to share a bedroom.
And, now, they are helping refugee children to adjust to the trauma of displacement.
The Sesame Workshop has teamed up with humanitarian aid organisation the International Rescue Committee (IRC), in order to deliver early-years education and emotional support to refugee children in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
Working together, the Sesame Workshop (formerly known, to those of a certain vintage, as the Children’s Television Workshop) and the IRC will create multimedia content featuring Big Bird, Elmo (pictured top and below) and those paragons of intimacy and long-term fidelity, Bert and Ernie.
The educational material will be specifically tailored to meet the developmental needs of refugee children and their parents, and to mitigate the impact of the trauma they have experienced.
It will include digital content, as well as printed material, in order to reach the largest possible number of children. It will be distributed through schools, community centres and health clinics.
The content will be drawn from the Sesame Workshop’s existing Jordanian, Egyptian and Gulf programmes, in order to ensure that it is culturally appropriate to the refugee children.
Around the world, 25 million people have been displaced from their homes; half of those are children.
“We are in the middle of a global refugee crisis,” says David Miliband, president of the IRC, in a three-minute film produced by the Sesame Workshop to promote its scheme.
“We know that children who suffer the trauma of war and displacement at an early age suffer the scars of that for many years to come.”
The film then cuts to puppet Elmo, talking to a child refugee wearing a headscarf, and then biting another’s ears. From there, it moves on to yellow fluffy monster Zoe, making a group of children laugh.
“I think our muppets are our secret weapon,” Sherrie Westin, of the Sesame Workshop, tells the cameras. “These Muppets have the ability to appeal to and engage children all over the world.”
The project has been selected as a semi-finalist for a $100 million (£80 million) grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
Photo credit: Ryan Heffernan, for Sesame Workshop