Ahlan Simsim! Television Show for Young Arab Children
By Emily Deveraux/Arab America Contributing Writer
Ahlan Simsim means welcome Sesame in Arabic. It is also a new television show curated by the Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee’s humanitarian program.
The International Rescue Committee announced in tandem with Sesame Workshop the beginning stages of Ahlan Simsim in 2016. However, the first year of this project saw stonewalling and an overall slow start. In 2017, the new project became the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation award. The show was rewarded with a $100 million prize.
After this influx of funding, the show really began to get off of the ground. This new Sesame show is an Arabic translation of the American show Sesame Street. This popular children’s show is known for its groundbreaking dialogue on autism, AIDS, homelessness, and other sensitive topics.
The dialogue surrounding sensitive topics was handled with care and understanding. Children were able to understand and accept these conversations. Therefore, the team is no stranger to handling sensitive topics with eloquent and inclusive minds.
Connecting with its Audience
Primarily based in the Syrian response region, this television program also delivers educational content and makes emotional appeals to children dealing with displacement at a young age.
Ahlan Simsim is accessible in classrooms, health clinics, mobile devices, and other mediums to increase the inclusivity of the program. Additionally, the program features many dynamic Arabic-speaking characters with storylines that represent displacement and host communities.
But what makes this show so groundbreaking for its audience in the Arab World?
While Ahlan Simsim is an entertaining children’s show that is suitable for ages 3-8, the program also holds a lot of educational value. A great deal of thought was put into each scene to teach children valuable lessons.
However, this was not a sole effort. There was a very large team that collaborated on the project, such as local designers who helped in connecting with local audiences, creative minds that kept the show engaging and fun, and childhood development experts who ensured that children are getting the most out of this show and create meaningful content.
Built for Impact
The structure of the show is quite cyclical- in that the first half is typically very comedic and lighthearted, but tells very relatable tales about the trials and tribulations of being a child. Such relatable tales include the fear of the dark or conflict when other friends don’t always play fair. It is essential for adults to remember that being a child is terrifying, the world is so new and there is so much unknown.
Therefore, Ahlan Simsim does an excellent job of exemplifying emotional tools. Such tools have the ability to help children rationalize their emotions and cope. Many of the characters would practice various emotional exercises throughout the show, such as counting to five, belly breathing, and using art as a means of expression.
However, the second half of the show is less plot-based but introduces real kids and celebrity guests to come to hang out with the characters of the show. During this segment, they would typically play games and sing songs to reinforce the key takeaways and core lessons from that episode.
Celebrity role models provide a positive leader that many children may look up to, in order to reinforce learned lessons. What a great way for celebrities to engage with the youth!
One facet of the show that stands out is its inclusion of many children that have dealt with trauma because of civil war. Because much of its audience has seen the terrors of the Syrian civil war, Ahlan Simsim built its content specifically for children that have undergone the ramifications of conflict in their home country.
One of the main characters, Jad, is quoted for saying “My toy is not with me… I left it behind in my old home when I came here,” which is a very relatable line that children can resonate with.
Ahlan Simsim utilizes its platform to provide emphasis on self-care and safety skills for young survivors of trauma. When children see characters, like Jad, who have undergone similar situations, they would identify and connect with these characters.
Therefore, all of the social-emotional and coping strategies, such as deep breathing and art, are effective in reaching their target audience. By employing these strategies for children, they are helping shape a better ability to process and deal with their painful situations.
Celebrities are also featured in episodes. They use their platform to connect with children and help speak out against the violence and displacement that has gone so far and has caused damaging scars in children. The synthesis of popular Arab stars and familiar characters lend a friendly reminder to children that they are not alone in this conflict, and that they are able to process.