The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has released a report unveiling insights from the largest early childhood intervention in the world, Ahlan SimSim. Initiated six years ago in response to the Syrian conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the program has provided crucial support to over 3 million children and caregivers across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Ahlan Simsim (“Welcome Sesame” in Arabic) is a transformational early childhood development (ECD) initiative dedicated to improving outcomes for children in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, particularly for children impacted by conflict, crisis, and displacement. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Sesame Workshop launched Ahlan Simsim as winners of the MacArthur Foundation’s first 100&Change competition with additional support from the LEGO Foundation. While Ahlan Simsim was initially launched in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the project expanded the focus to all children in need across the four countries where we worked.

The Ahlan Simsim initiative integrates direct early childhood development services for children and caregivers with educational media – including the Arabic-language TV show produced by Sesame Workshop, also titled Ahlan Simsim. As such, more than three million children and caregivers have been reached with early childhood services and programs through 2023 across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and northern Syria, with a collective of 80 partners from local NGOs to government ministries. These interventions led by national ministries or local entities are projected to sustain year on year to reach more than a million children annually.

Ahlan Simsim has heavily focused on scaling their pathways, an approach that helped engange various sectors with one another to provide the opportunity for focusing on the child’s development and to become forces of change for the future of their societies. Hence, some of the key questions that the program addresses are: what propelled the program’s scaling and sustainability forward? What held it back? The program is marked by both successes and failures, each instrumental in guiding their scaling approach and strategies.

A critical factor that facilitated their work across the themes and successes in scaling was the flexibility of financing and trust from their donors and partners. It enabled the teams in each of the countries to adapt quickly and respond to dynamic contexts and changing circumstances, such as economic instability or civil unrest, ensuring the continuity of essential ‘early child development’ (ECD) initiatives. This adaptable financing proved crucial in maintaining the effectiveness and sustainability of interventions. They also aim to contribute to the collective understanding of what is needed for successful scaling in the humanitarian sector and to promote the adoption of effective strategies for scaling interventions.

For example, in Iraq, the Ahlan Simsim team did not at first have a good understanding of the system and did not engage with the appropriate departments, which created barriers when planning to pilot the school readiness intervention. The Ahlan Simsim team then invested in understanding the ministry system and culture and building relationships with the relevant department and key individuals. These strong relationships and deeper understanding of the system and context proved beneficial in advancing the work during later stages. That said, The program was piloted in 119 schools in 2021 and expanded by 2023 to run in over 7,000 schools.

The initial plan for scaling in northern Syria focused on supporting an ECD network that would advocate and fundraise for ECD. However, when the earthquake hit in February 2023, leaving Syrian children specifically vulnerable to post- traumatic stress disorder as they absorb yet another shock. The focus of this network shifted to give higher priority to younger children in the emergency response by coordinating the provision of direct services as part of the emergency response. The IRC and partners were committed to changing the nature of the support provided to match the changing context and shifting needs.

In Lebanon, the Ahlan Simsim team collaborated with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to address the gap in basic standards for nurseries with impacts on the quality of care. Ahlan Simsim and Ministry teams engaged stakeholders and policy experts to collaboratively design standards for quality care and assessment tools to measure effective implementation of these standards and identify what programmatic support nurseries would need to meet these new standards. The Ahlan Simsim team facilitated a participatory process that culminated in the ministry launching new care standards for the nation’s 400 private nurseries.

In Jordan, the interventions designed with national partners and Ahlan Simsim teams were aligned with the government’s Human Resources Development Strategy (2016-2025) and meant the solutions co-designed with Ministries of Health, Education and Social Development matched with existing ministry mandates and government priorities. This alignment facilitated the take-up of these interventions that reached nearly one million children and caregivers in Jordan in 2023 and are expected to be taken up by Jordan’s national system and sustain in the long-term.

To read more on IRC’s Ahlan Simsim intiative, please click on this link.

Data and image source:
NO Comment 29th April 2024

Leave a Reply

Translate »
Chat with us
Chat with us
Questions, doubts, issues? We're here to help you!
None of our operators are available at the moment. Please, try again later.
Our operators are busy. Please try again later
Have you got question? Write to us!
This chat session has ended
Was this conversation useful? Vote this chat session.
Good Bad