British Columbia

Former Syrian refugee helps create new Sesame Street for displaced children

Mohammad Aljamous, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Canada earlier this year, worked as a consultant on an Arabic version of Sesame Street.

Special Arabic-language show is intended to give kids skills to cope with trauma

This image released by HBO shows characters, from left, Abby Cadabby, Elmo and Big Bird in a scene from Sesame Street. The popular children's TV show is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and is launching a special Arabic version aimed at refugee children in the Middle East. (HBO/The Associated Press)

A Syrian refugee now living in Whistler, B.C., used his own experience of displacement when he worked as a consultant for a new version of Sesame Street aimed at helping children fleeing conflict in the Middle East. 

Mohammad Aljamous, who goes by Jamous, helped behind the scenes of an Arabic-language version of Sesame Street called Ahlan Simsim, which means Welcome Sesame, when he was living as a refugee in Jordan.

He arrived in Canada earlier this year.

"I think it will mean a lot because they will feel that they will have customized content for them," Jamous told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast.

The show is funded by a $100-million dollar grant from the Chicago- based MacArthur Foundation and is a partnership between the non-profit organization, the International Rescue Committee and Sesame Street.  

The iconic children's program recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and is widely lauded for its focus on social issues, sensitive topics and inclusion. Over the years, the show featured characters with Down syndrome, HIV and autism.

Ahlan Simsim will have Muppets and actors like its English counterpart, but will also focus on demonstrating different coping mechanisms — like slow breathing — to help children regulate the intense emotions that can come from their deeply traumatic circumstances.

Jamous, who now works in the hospitality industry, was a refugee in Jordan for more than six years. He was working in the digital department of the International Rescue Committee when he was asked to help the show as a consultant. 

He continued doing some long-distance work for it after arriving to B.C. in February, sponsored by the Canada Caring Society and the B.C. Muslim Association. 

Jamous says he has fond memories of watching Sesame Street with his siblings in his own youth, but says refugee youth face different circumstances, absorbing the stress and instability of their surroundings. 

"People just need to keep in mind that those kids are not like any other kids," he said. "They don't have access to the same life as others."

The show is set to air in the Middle East starting February 2020.

Listen to the interview on CBC's On The Coast here:

Mohammad Aljamous, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Canada earlier this year, worked as a consultant on an Arabic version of Sesame Street aimed at refugee children. 6:03

With files from On The Coast


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