Thanks to a $100 million grant, Big Bird, Elmo, and the Cookie Monster are heading to the Middle East to help educate refugee kids and address the “toxic stress” affecting families in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.

Sesame Street and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) beat out nearly 2,000 applicants for the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition, which awarded the grant based on the proposal’s promise of “real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.”

In their proposal, Sesame Street and IRC presented an early childhood development intervention that will combine free educational content on TV and mobile devices with home visits and health outreach to help displaced families foster nurturing and stimulating environments for their children.

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The comprehensive program will reach roughly 9.4 million kids and 800,000 caregivers with daily text messages and links to audio and video content designed to improve literacy and math skills as well as socioemotional resilience, the MacArthur Foundation reported.

MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch said Sesame Street and IRC won the competition because they targeted early childhood development and education, areas overlooked by traditional aid funding.

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"We are compelled to respond to the urgent Syrian refugee crisis by supporting what will be the largest early childhood intervention program ever created in a humanitarian setting," Stasch said.

Global Citizen campaigns on ensuring access to education, safety, and equal opportunities for all children. You can take action here to support refugee children.

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According to UNESCO, countries experiencing conflict spend just 3.2% of their national budgets on education, well below the global average of 5%. Stasch said only about 2% of humanitarian aid funding targets education.

As the number of refugees rises to record levels, education funding has become even more important.

More than half of the 22.5 million people refugees in 2016 came from Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan the United Nations High Commission on Refugees reported earlier this year. About 5.4 million people have fled Syria and settled in nearby countries like Turkey and Lebanon while another 6.1 million remain internally displaced within Syria, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

To Sesame Street, their proposal is a step toward bridging the opportunity gap between refugee children and the kids watching Bert and Ernie from the comfort of their couches.

“Today, we’re facing the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time—the refugee crisis,” Sesame Street said. “That’s why Sesame Street and the International Rescue Committee have teamed up to bring invaluable early learning, laughter, and hope to millions of children who need it most.”


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‘Sesame Street’ Just Got $100 Million to Help Refugee Kids

By David Brand