Sesame Workshop Is Creating Programming For Refugees : NPR Ed Sesame Workshop is creating educational programming for refugee children around the world. But first, it's doing a lot of homework to make sure the lessons it teaches are the right ones.
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When Elmo And Big Bird Talk To Refugees

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When Elmo And Big Bird Talk To Refugees

When Elmo And Big Bird Talk To Refugees

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Elmo and Big Bird have lots of experience educating children about all kinds of things from the alphabet to autism. Well, now, Sesame Workshop wants to help millions of refugee children from Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries. But first, they're doing their homework. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has our story.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: At Sesame Workshop's headquarters in New York recently, CEO Jeff Dunn told a small crowd the company has a responsibility to help the most vulnerable among us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF DUNN: There are no more vulnerable, you know, people in the world than these refugee families and kids.

BLAIR: So Sesame Workshop is working with the IRC, the International Rescue Committee. The two organizations invited relief workers and public health experts from around the world to come together to share their knowledge, answer questions and watch some "Sesame Street."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Elmo) Must count down - 10, nine, eight, seven, six...

BLAIR: Sesame Workshop's director of international education, Abby Bucuvalas, showed the group existing content with different themes like coping.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABBY BUCUVALAS: Some of the things that we're really trying to influence are children understanding that they have big feelings, and there are things that they can do to manage those feelings or those emotions.

BLAIR: Like taking deep breaths, as the adult human Gordon shows the Muppet Telly when he's really angry.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

ROSCOE ORMAN: (As Gordon) OK. Try it. In.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Telly) In through my nose and out through my mouth.

ORMAN: (As Gordon) Good. Now, talk to yourself and say calm down - like that.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Telly) Calm down, Telly.

BLAIR: Another big theme that came up was inclusivity. In a clip from "Sesame Street" in Brazil, Big Bird feels left out because he's too tall to play limbo with the other Muppets, so his friends adapt the game so that he can play, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character, foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Big Bird, foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character, foreign language spoken).

BLAIR: But this video clip raised a red flag for some who work in the Middle East. Cairo Arafat oversees the production of the Arabic-language "Sesame Street" from Abu Dhabi. She urged her colleagues not to make assumptions that refugees will share their values like inclusivity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAIRO ARAFAT: Many of these populations, children are still taught no, be wary of the people who don't talk like you, don't look like you, don't, you know, or come from a different sect.

BLAIR: With the special conditions in refugee camps, Arafat said think carefully about what you're trying to teach. For Sesame Workshop, it was a full day of lessons like this. Another big one - teach refugee children what their caregivers are going through.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RABIH EL CHAMMAY: Children notice what their parent goes through, but they don't understand it.

BLAIR: Dr. Rabih El Chammay is a psychiatrist and head of the National Mental Health Program of Lebanon, where there are more than a million Syrian refugees.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EL CHAMMAY: They get puzzled - why is daddy shouting at me now? I mean, I didn't do anything wrong. And it's very important to explain to children how parents feel about displacement, about losing their homes, about coming to another country.

BLAIR: Shari Rosenfeld, Sesame's senior vice president for social impact, says while the seminar in New York was important, it's just the beginning of their process.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHARI ROSENFELD: It's insufficient until we go back to the region, go back to Jordan, back to Lebanon, back to Iraq and bring some of the working hypotheses to say, you know, OK, we're going to test these with you. What makes sense? Help us figure out where to focus.

BLAIR: A team from Sesame Workshop is traveling to Amman next week. They've organized a kind of focus group for Syrian refugees. Children and families will view existing "Sesame" content and give feedback. Grover will be there, too. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM BLUE")

ERIC JACOBSON: (As Grover, singing) I am blue.

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