In late 2017, Sesame and the International Rescue Committee earned an initial $100 million grant by winning the MacArthur Foundation’s inaugural 100&Change competition to create programming specifically designed for Middle Eastern refugees from conflict zones in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.
Now the Lego Foundation just gave Sesame Workshop another $100 million, doubling its funding for the project. The grant will allow Sesame to intensify its current work creating positive, play-based educational interventions for kids impacted by the Syrian conflict, and expand the program to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
This challenge, though, only continues to grow. In recent years, nearly 69 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, about half of whom are children. More than 25 million of those people have become registered refugees. And while there are many aid agencies focused on providing food and shelter, they can neglect the development of the youngest refugees. “The great irony is those who are impacted the most from displacement–young children–are receiving the least,” says Sherrie Westin, the president of global impact and philanthropy for Sesame Workshop.
“Less than three percent of all humanitarian aid goes to education, and a tiny sliver of that goes to early education,” she says. “And yet we know from all of the evidence–from brain science, from epigenetics, you name it–that the most critical time in a child’s development is in those first five years. And that when they experience traumatic events and exposure to prolonged stress, it literally debilitates their brain development.”
Sesame’s current plan for the Syrian response region of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, includes developing a culturally specific version of Sesame Street that will feature several new Muppets, some of whom may have backstories loosely mirroring the key issues facing kids in that region: being uprooted, say, or learning to share your home. The group is also creating supplemental learning materials like storybooks that cover other topics, including why people bully and what it feels like to get bullied–from a kid’s perspective.