Refugees, Sesame Street, and Friday Music

Courtesy of NPR, an excellent article on the newest visitors to refugee children: the Sesame Street Muppets.

image via NPR

We are fascinated by the research process that Sesame Workshop is up to here.

In partnership with the International Rescue Committee, Sesame producers and early-childhood experts are soliciting guidance and feedback from relief organizations, trauma experts, academics and others who have worked with refugees. They’ll also be making research visits to refugee camps in Jordan.

According to the IRC, of the 65 million people displaced from their homes worldwide, more than half are children.

As American readers, steeped in multiculturalism (not to mention as Bay Area readers, used to a high level of diversity), what stood out the most to us, though, was what children might not be taught.

Cairo Arafat, who oversees production of the Arabic language Sesame Street from Abu Dhabi, urged her colleagues not to make assumptions that refugees will share their values such as inclusivity.

“In many of these populations,” she said, “children are still taught, ‘No. Be wary of the people who don’t talk like you, don’t look like you or come from a different sect.’ ” With the special conditions facing refugees — including security issues — Arafat advised careful thinking about what they would like to teach.

It’s an interesting reality check. On a personal level, in our day to day lives, we are lucky enough that this feels like a strange, even wrong, thing to teach children. It runs counter to what we hope to teach our own. But we are also fortunate enough not to live in a society where members of another sect could very well prove dangerous, and in that way, it’s a great reminder of the importance of doing this kind of research prior to beginning any new project. (We’d hazard a guess that there may be groups of children in the US who, say, would not benefit from a curriculum, no matter how well-intentioned, designed to teach that police officers are friends.)

Another focal point for the organization is helping children better understand adult stress.

“It’s very important to explain to children how parents feel about displacement, about losing their homes, about moving to a new country,” said Rabih El Chammay, a psychiatrist and head of the National Mental Health Program of Lebanon (where there are more than 1 million Syrian refugees). “Children notice what their parents go through but they don’t understand it. They get puzzled: ‘Why is Daddy shouting at me now? I didn’t do anything wrong.’ “

Sesame Street has been helping children worldwide process and explore and live their emotions, not just their ABCs. And so for Friday music, in honor of one of Sesame Workshop’s newest endeavors, we present a couple of old school songs that can still help kids (and adults!) get in touch with some big feelings. Enjoy!

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