Sesame Workshop has been awarded a $100 million grant from the LEGO Foundation to support a new early childhood development initiative for millions of children affected by the Rohingya and Syrian refugee crises. The 5-year program will leverage the power of learning through play, providing communities affected by refugee crises access to vital early learning opportunities. Together with BRAC and the IRC, Sesame Workshop will reach displaced and host community children and their caregivers in Bangladesh and the Syrian response region through direct services and mass media programming. The program will also include robust research and advocacy components aimed at identifying best practices for play-based learning in humanitarian response and encouraging sustainable investment in early childhood development.

The LEGO Foundation announced that it is awarding a $100 million grant to Sesame Workshop to ensure that young children affected by the Rohingya and Syrian crises have opportunities to learn through play and develop the skills needed for the future. Working in partnership with BRAC, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and New York University’s Global TIES for Children, Sesame Workshop will reach children affected by crises in Bangladesh and the Syrian response region with early childhood and play-based learning opportunities.

The $100 million grant from the LEGO Foundation will benefit some of the world’s most vulnerable children and call attention to the critical importance of learning through play to set them on a path of healthy growth and development.  

As refugees experience displacement for an average of 10 years, millions of children are spending a significant part of their childhoods without access to adequate early childhood development opportunities. Adverse experiences like displacement can affect young children’s developing brains, with lasting effects on health and well-being. Engaging in play-based activities with responsive caregivers can help mitigate the detrimental, long term effects of displacement and trauma, ultimately giving children affected by conflict the skills they need to thrive into adulthood and rebuild their communities.

“This partnership marks the first step of the LEGO Foundation’s commitment to work within the humanitarian field to support children’s holistic development that incorporates learning through play. We hope to inspire other funders, humanitarian actors, world leaders, and governments to act and urgently prioritize support for play-based early childhood development for children in humanitarian crises—a vastly overlooked but vital component in the progress of humanitarian aid. We hope that young children impacted by these crises will have opportunities to benefit from learning through play and also develop the skills needed for them to thrive in the future,” says Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, Chairman of the LEGO Foundation Board and 4th generation owner of the LEGO Group.

Less than 3% of the global humanitarian aid budget is currently dedicated to education, with only a small fraction benefitting young children despite clear evidence that early childhood interventions have immediate and long-term benefits for both children and their communities. The LEGO Foundation is committed to making a difference for children affected by conflict and displacement, to ensure a better tomorrow for all future generations.

Sesame Workshop will use the $100 million grant to implement quality, play-based early childhood interventions. This includes the following areas:

- Direct Services: Partnering with BRAC, the new program will scale up BRAC’s network of Humanitarian Play Labs to address the developmental needs of children ages 0 to 6 from Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi host populations. BRAC’s Play Lab model is designed to give pre-school children age relevant and culturally appropriate play materials, a play-based curriculum, and safe spaces for guided play that ensures their holistic development.

New Sesame videos, storybooks, games, puzzles, and more featuring the beloved Muppets of Sesame Street will be created to foster engagement between children and their caregivers, nurture developmental needs, and build resilience for children ages 0 to 6.

The new program will also deepen the play-based learning aspects of the existing Sesame Workshop-IRC program that serves children and families affected by the Syrian conflict, including support for caregivers to better engage in playful learning with their children.

- Mass Media: Harnessing the power of the Sesame Street Muppets, Sesame Workshop will create videos focused on play to be shared through family-friendly mobile and pop-up viewings in refugee and host communities. Global Sesame content will also be used—including video content from Sisimpur, the Bangladeshi version of Sesame Street, and from a new TV series in production in the Syrian response region—to meet the unique needs of refugee and host community children.

Much of the new content will use animated and nonverbal formats, so that it can be used to address the needs of displaced children no matter where they live or what language they speak.

“With the LEGO Foundation’s extraordinary award, Sesame Workshop and our partners have an unprecedented opportunity to reach and teach some of the world’s most vulnerable children by harnessing the power of learning through play,” said Jeffrey D. Dunn, President & CEO of Sesame Workshop. “The global refugee crisis is the humanitarian issue of our time, and we are deeply humbled by the trust the LEGO Foundation has placed in us to uplift the lives of children affected by conflict. Together with our partners at BRAC, the IRC, and NYU, we can forge a legacy for children worldwide affected by displacement, today and for generations to come.”

“This partnership marks the first step of the LEGO Foundation’s commitment to work within the humanitarian field to support children’s holistic development that incorporates learning through play. We hope to inspire other funders, humanitarian actors, world leaders, and governments to act and urgently prioritize support for play-based early childhood development for children in humanitarian crises—a vastly overlooked but vital component in the progress of humanitarian aid. We hope that young children impacted by these crises will have opportunities to benefit from learning through play and also develop the skills needed for them to thrive in the future,” says Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, Chairman of the LEGO Foundation Board and 4th generation owner of the LEGO Group.

“Violence and traumatic experiences threaten the healthy development of young children living in conflict and crisis. During this highly sensitive time of brain development, experiences of severe and prolonged stress can have life-long effects on children’s future learning, health, and well-being,” says Sarah Smith, Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee. “With support from the LEGO Foundation, the IRC’s early childhood development program with Sesame Workshop will equip millions of children with the language, literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills they need to buffer the effects of toxic stress and lead productive, healthy, and fulfilling lives.”

NYU’s Global TIES for Children has been selected as the independent evaluation partner for the program and will implement an evidence-based research and evaluation program, which will deepen understanding around play-based early childhood interventions in humanitarian contexts.

“We are honored to partner with Sesame Workshop, BRAC, and the IRC on this historic initiative to understand how play-based learning and support can build a future of hope, creativity, and engagement for a generation of children in some of the most challenging contexts in the world,” says Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Co-Director of the Global TIES for Children Center at NYU.

Sesame Workshop will receive the $100 million grant over a 5-year period, with funds released as established milestones are met.

By NO Comment 12th July 2020

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