Meet Basma, One of the new Sesame Street Characters to Support Child Refugees

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Basma, Jad and Ma’zooza recently  joined the Sesame Street family. The trio of new Arabic-speaking characters will help teach children in the Middle East to read and write, as well as process the trauma of displacement, Sherrie Westin announced during the 74th session of the UNGA at the United Nations. 

All three new Arabic-speaking Sesame Street characters — Basma, Jad and Ma’zooza — are intrepid and will address serious topics like trauma in a manner that is accessible to children, as these are issues many refugee children in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq are confronted with every day.

Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation behind the Sesame Street show, has teamed up with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to produce an entire season of episodes with the aim of bringing a smile to refugee children’s faces, help them learn the alphabet and develop numerical skills – but also better process loneliness, fear and despair.

For over 50 years, the characters of Sesame Street, from the Cookie Monster to Big Bird, have helped children from diverse backgrounds navigate the challenges of life as a small person in a big world.

At the SDG MEDIA ZONE, during a panel session , Sherrie Westin,  the director of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop in the United States, said they endeavored to ensure the new Sesame Street show features relatable situations and characters from the Middle East to truly connect with refugee kids. She then announced the launch of Ahlan Simsim (“Welcome Sesame” in Arabic) where we got introduced to the BASMA character. 

Sherrie Westin with Basma
Sherrie Westin introducing Basma at the SDG MEDIA ZONE, UNGA74

The show is called “Ahlan Simsim”, which translates to “Welcome Sesame” premiered in February 2020. Executive producer Scott Cameron wrote, “We also know from research that these ’emotional ABCs’ are especially important for kids who’ve experienced the trauma of war and displacement, as is the case for so many children in the Syrian response region.”

The show will feature Basma, Jad and Ma’zooza teaching children about and better process human interaction and emotions. Cameron described Basma as a “purple-furred Muppet” who is “a born performer” with a “special ability to create music and sound effects.” This, he wrote, can “come in handy when she can’t quite find the words to express herself.”

Basma is 6 years old, just like her yellow Muppet mate Jad, who is new to the “Ahlan Simsim” neighbourhood, loves to paint and carries a paintbrush from home. At the SDG MEDIA ZONE, we got to meet BASMA LIVE and see her perform. 

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