The Muppets are taking the Middle East.
The MacArthur Foundation said Wednesday that it was awarding $100 million to Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee to create early childhood development programs for Syrian refugees. It will focus on displaced children in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, seeking to reach them at a key time for brain development.
“If we’re not giving them the tools to overcome toxic stress, that trauma in those early years, the research shows the repercussions are lifelong,” Sherrie Westin, Sesame’s executive vice president for global impact, said in an interview on Thursday.
The five-year grant will fund a localized version of “Sesame Street,” distributed through television and digital devices, and home visits using “Sesame Street” content for an estimated 1.5 million children. Instead of the stars that Americans grew up with, like Big Bird, Elmo and Oscar the Grouch, the characters would be tailored to the region, speaking Arabic and Iraqi Kurdish.
Sesame Workshop expects to reach 9.4 million children, teaching them language, reading, math and social skills. The company said the Muppets would “model inclusion and respect, and gender equity, and they will provide engaging educational messages, always from a child’s perspective.”
Ms. Westin said having characters that children can relate to makes the children more receptive to the lessons.
“You could envision a Muppet with a story line where they have to leave their home, or lives in a tent, or becomes best friends with a neighbor,” she said.
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