With the average length of refugee displacement approaching 20 years, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have had to rethink their approaches to providing services for this vulnerable population., the International Rescue Committee (IRC), is teaming up with iconic children's broadcaster Sesame Workshop to address the needs of kids spending their childhoods as refugees. "Ahlan Simsim", or "Welcome Sesame," was created with young refugee children in mind and will teach Arabic-speaking children around the world to cope with some of the traumas associated with extended displacement. The show is one product of a staggering $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
On the set of "Ahlan Simsim" in Amman, Jordan, 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl saw firsthand how the Muppets are teaching these coping strategies to children. "The episode I saw, the tactic was belly breathing," Stahl told 60 Minutes Overtime. With the help of three new Muppets--Basma, Jad, and their humorous sidekick baby goat, Ma'zooza--created expressly for the Arab-language show, Stahl reported how this new Sesame production will teach children to breathe purposefully when they feel a strong emotion.
Basma, the new female Muppet created for "Welcome Sesame," explained belly breathing to Stahl. "You put your hand on your tummy, then you take a deep breath, and breathe out," Basma demonstrated. Experts hope that when children utilize this practice in real life, it will help quell fears and make painful moments more tolerable. As the plush purple Muppet Basma explains, "This makes you feel relaxed… it helped me feel a little better."
Stahl went on to explain the larger purpose of the exercise. "You can feel loneliness, you can feel sadness," she said, "you're not alone." The deep breaths Basma demonstrated are a reminder to children going through sometimes unimaginable challenges that, in Stahl's words, "you're not on an island by yourself. We're all in this."
"Ahlan Simsim" made its debut in February 2020, and shows are being broadcast in 20 countries. Sesame has broadcast two specials with Basma and Jad to address kids' needs during the Covid-19 pandemic, and season two is now in production, with plans to launch in the fall.
The video above was originally published on November 17, 2019 and was produced by Sarah Shafer, Rebecca Chertok Gonsalves and Matthew Polevoy. It was edited by Sarah Shafer.
Sesame Workshop® video courtesy of ©2019 Sesame Workshop