Evidence for Investment

New research on effective early childhood development

Girl Smiling while looking at a puppet from Ahlan Simsim


There are more than 100 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, and almost half are children. For the youngest children, these disruptions come during a critical window in their development1. Too often, the lack of early childhood development (ECD) programming in humanitarian contexts has left these children behind, and there is limited research on how best to reach and support them.

Ahlan Simsim (“Welcome Sesame” in Arabic)—a groundbreaking initiative from Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the LEGO Foundation—is a multi-year investment to address those gaps. As the largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response, Ahlan Simsim is reaching children, caregivers, and ECD facilitators with programming, resources, and the support they need to thrive.

A commitment to research and learning is at the heart of the Ahlan Simsim initiative. Three new randomized controlled trials led by New York University Global TIES for Children (NYU-TIES) provide new insights on what works to improve children’s holistic development. The findings indicate that remote programs can support children’s development and caregivers’ well-being and demonstrate the power of integrating educational media with ECD services. These results have significant implications for delivering child development interventions in humanitarian and other contexts where traditional in-person services are not available.

The Ahlan Simsim initiative has reached more than one million children and caregivers through direct ECD services and playful learning in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria and more than 23 million children across the Middle East and North Africa through an award-winning locally produced Arabic-language version of Sesame Street, also called Ahlan Simsim. Several of Ahlan Simsim’s in-person models were adapted to remote modalities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To assess the impact of key elements of the programs, NYU-TIES measured the effects of:

  • A remote preschool program that uses multimedia content on child development and caregiver practices among mostly Syrian refugee families in Lebanon

  • The Ahlan Simsim TV show on children’s ability to identify emotions and coping strategies among mostly Jordanian children in kindergarten classrooms
    in Jordan

  • Audio-only phone calls featuring ECD parenting support alongside health content for Syrian and Jordanian families in Jordan

Ahlan Simsim RCT Brief Cover Photo
Sesame workshop, NRC, NYU, MacArthur Foundation, The Lego Foundation
Publication date

Files available for download