For young refugees, no education means no future. So Elmo is going overseas to help.

By now, you may have heard that Elmo and his friends are going to help the kids living in Syrian refugee camps. And you may want to know how you can help.

While America engages in a national debate around immigration — regardless of your position — I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that children are at the center of the refugee crisis. More than twelve million young children have been ripped from their homes by violent regimes and regime change. Through no fault of their own or that of their families, their future is at risk.

Today, I want to put a name and face to those numbers. I’d like to introduce you to two of them — sisters — who I had the opportunity to meet last week when I visited Mafraq, Jordan.

Wala’a, age 5, and her sister, Ala’a, age 12, fled Syria with their father three years ago, when their mother was killed.

And — incredibly, considering their tragic story — they’re on a path toward success. Wala’a, Ala’a, and their father now live in the outskirts of Mafraq with their aunt and grandmother. They’re attending school and have the chance to play outside in a safe, encouraging environment.

Not everyone is so lucky (and I use the term “lucky” very, very loosely). Meet Islam and Mohammed, pictured below. Islam is 5 years-old and her brother is only three. They’re both Syrian refugees, too. They don’t attend a formal school and can’t remember life back in Syria. The only home they have ever known is the tent seen below, surrounded by dirt and dust.

But they have hope. Islam loves to draw and wants be a doctor when she grows up so she can help people. Mohammed loves soccer and wants to be a police officer. Their mother, Gharam, sees education as the key — allowing them to learn will help them make a good living, feel safe, and never have to live in fear again.

For them and the millions of children in their situation, this is a critical moment in history. For young refugees, no education means no future. And finding schools for millions of displaced children is an impossible task. Bringing them education, though, is not. For nearly 50 years, Sesame Street has been providing education at scale, through the power of media. We believe that, if we can reach these children with quality early childhood programs, we can change their future.

We all know that education leads to future opportunity. But early education is more than just a good thing — it’s critical. Research shows we can have the greatest impact on children’s outcomes by reaching them in the earliest years of life. We further know that combining early childhood education with the encouragement of an engaged, loving adult is critical to helping children overcome the stress of traumatic childhood experiences.

That’s why Sesame Street has been working to identify ways that Elmo and the rest of the Sesame Street Muppets can use their power to help these exceptionally vulnerable children. At the World Humanitarian Summit in May of last year, we announced that we are joining forces with a great partner — the International Rescue Committee — which understands the lives of refugees and their realities backward and forward. Together we will give these children life-changing early education and provide tools for parents to help children thrive.

We’re excited that the MacArthur Foundation found our combined work so compelling as to name us a semifinalist for their 100&Change grant, but we’re going to let you in on a little secret: even if MacArthur doesn’t end up funding this work, Sesame and the IRC are going to find a way to help these children.

We have to. It’s our mission, and it’s an important mission. It’s what we do. As a non-profit organization, our number one priority is the education of children. Throughout our history, Sesame Street has been helping kids here and around the world grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. That includes children who are refugees. They have unique needs and their situation demands a unique solution — and Sesame can help.

If you’re familiar with our work, you already know that Sesame has a long and storied history of issue-specific interventions that care not about the politics of the situation but solely on the needs of the affected children. Our Sesame Street for Military Families resources, for example, help children of American servicemen and servicewomen cope with moving from base to base, deployments, what happens when a parent comes back injured (both physically and mentally/emotionally), and when a parent dies in service to our country. As always, our focus is on the needs of the affected children. And this is true for all of our other work, from autism acceptance and girls’ education, to food insecurity and emergency preparedness.

We at Sesame believe that helping refugee children is a moral imperative. While our nation is divided, Sesame has a long history of bringing together people from all walks of life and from diverse viewpoints around one common cause: kids. We hope you’ll join us.

To learn more about this work, please visit us at

To support our work with your tax deductible gift, please click here. Millions of children are counting on you.



President, Global Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street.

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Sherrie Westin

President, Global Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street.