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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

IRC and Sesame Workshop win $100m grant to bring ‘hope and opportunity’ to Syrian refugee children

The two non-profit organisations have been awarded the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation’s largest-ever grant

The MacArthur Foundation announced that Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee will get a $100 million grant for a joint program that will include home visits focused on early learning, child development centres and a local version of Sesame Street. Ryan Heffernan/ Sesame Workshop via AP
The MacArthur Foundation announced that Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee will get a $100 million grant for a joint program that will include home visits focused on early learning, child development centres and a local version of Sesame Street. Ryan Heffernan/ Sesame Workshop via AP

The International Rescue Committee and Sesame Workshop have been awarded the MacArthur Foundation’s largest-ever grant to implement an early childhood education project for Syrian refugees.

The IRC and Sesame Workshop were the winners of the 100&Change competition launched by the MacArthur Foundation in June 2016, which offered $100 million (Dh367m) to a proposal which promised to bring “real progress toward solving a critical problem of our time”.

More than 8 million children have been affected by the war in Syria, 80 per cent of the country’s child population, according to UNICEF.

David Miliband, President and CEO of IRC, said the grant would “bring hope and opportunity to a generation of refugee children”.

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Mr Miliband said he hoped the grant- one of the biggest single charity donations given to such a project- from the Chicago-based non-profit organisation would encourage similar philanthropic acts.

“I hope the new kind of philanthropic thinking embodied by this grant will be an inspiration to others seeking to tackle the world's largest problems. At a time when governments are in retreat, NGOs and philanthropists need to step up, and that is what we are seeing here – and in a big way," he added.

The project, which has been designed in consultation with local child development and curriculum experts, will produce a customised version of Sesame Street for Syrian children displaced by the civil war to support literacy and numeracy. The Sesame Street muppets will embody values such as inclusion, respect and gender equity.

"The Syrian refugee crisis is the humanitarian issue of our time and we are deeply grateful for this incredible opportunity," said Jeffrey D Dunn, President & CEO of Sesame Workshop.

Children taking part in formative research conducted by Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee at a women's center in Mafraq, Jordan. Parisa Azad/ Sesame Workshop via AP
Children taking part in formative research conducted by Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee at a women's center in Mafraq, Jordan. Parisa Azad/ Sesame Workshop via AP

"These children are, arguably, the world's most vulnerable and by improving their lives we create a more stable and secure world for us all."

The programme will be rolled out in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

President of the MacArthur foundation Julia Stasch said the project would be "the largest early childhood intervention program ever created in a humanitarian setting".

"Less than 2% of the global humanitarian aid budget is dedicated to education, and only a sliver of all education assistance benefits young children.

"The longer-term goal is to change the system of humanitarian aid to focus more on helping to ensure the future of young children through education."

The other three finalists of the 100&Change competition will receive $15 million over five years, the foundation announced in a welcome surprise.