By Chantale Kallas Chantale.Kallas@rescue.org

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Sesame Workshop have teamed up to create Ahlan Simsim (“Welcome Sesame” in Arabic), a program that delivers critical early learning and nurturing care to children and caregivers affected by displacement in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Through in-person direct services across the region a new, local version of Sesame Street, Ahlan Simsim reaches displaced and host community families wherever they are—from classrooms and health clinics to TV and mobile devices—with the vital early childhood development (ECD) resources they need in order to thrive. Fueled by a groundbreaking $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation and additional support from the LEGO Foundation, Ahlan Simsim is also elevating awareness, engaging policymakers, spearheading research, and increasing investment in ECD in crisis settings.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, further destabilizing the vulnerable communities Ahlan Simsim serves, the team has adapted engagement modalities and content packages to continue to reach children and caregivers during this time when in-person activities are not possible. ECD materials originally designed for use through in-person programming have been adapted for digital dissemination. Our programs focus on disseminating key messages addressing COVID-19 prevention, caregiver and child wellbeing, and the importance of ECD, and play-based age- appropriate activities caregivers can use to engage their children in the home to promote healthy early development. Descriptions of each activity are provided to caregivers via a voice note (in local dialect) on WhatsApp guiding caregivers through simple activities supporting language skills, social-emotional learning, hygiene and physical movement.

At end of March, the Ahlan Simsim team conducted a rapid test of content packages with 200 caregivers across Iraq, Lebanon and Northeast and Northwest Syria, further adapting the content and delivery in response. IRC’s Ahlan Simsim teams began disseminating adapted content to caregivers in mid-April and the next stage of this program adaptation will see roll out of the a mass message distribution application, allowing users to select which content they would like to receive and enabling two-way communication so that chat bots or Ahlan Simsim facilitators can easily respond to caregiver questions. Discussions are on-going in the different countries with key ministries and local CSO who are interested in sharing these messages through their existing channels.

Additionally, the Ahlan Simsim team is coordinating across IRC sectors (Health, Child Protection, Women’s Empowerment) to embed ECD messages within communication and materials disseminated via other sectors’ distribution systems. This approach is aligned with the cross- sectoral nature of ECD and, as with Ahlan Simsim’s in-person programming, meets children and caregivers wherever they access services or information.

Click here for the full report on the Ahlan Simsim COVID-19 program adaptation.

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