A large part of the nearly one million residents of the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are children, many of whom have suffered traumatic events as they’ve escaped persecution in Myanmar.
To help alleviate the distress of Rohingya refugee children and provide them with early years of education, the Sesame Street cast will feature two new Rohingya characters in its programs shown in refugee camps.
The two newest Sesame Street characters, twin six-year-old refugees named Noor and Aziz, will appear with Elmo and other famous Muppets in programs teaching basic math and parts of early education.
“We know that children learn best when they see themselves and they can identify with these characters,” says Sherrie Westin, president of the social impact at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street.
The twin characters, which were developed with close input from the Rohingya community, will also address issues around emotional wellbeing. One of the storylines, for example, shows one of the characters being afraid of the dark, while the other helps him calm down by breathing from his belly.
In addition, the program helps children connect with adults and encourages them to talk about their feelings. “By promoting that engagement, you are really giving them more opportunity to build resilience, and to overcome the negative impact of the trauma and stress they’ve experienced,” says Westin.
Earlier this year, Sesame Workshop also created a new version of Sesame Street for children in Jordan and Lebanon who were displaced by the war in Syria. The initiatives, backed by a $100 million grant from the Lego Foundation, are driven by the mission to give kids access to educational tools and help them cope with the trauma they’ve experienced as refugees.