By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, Dec 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Muppets to the rescue! The "Sesame Street" television show and a leading charity received a $100 million grant on Wednesday to use the Muppets to reach millions of war-affected children in the Middle East.
The Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee (IRC) will focus on children in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq with a local version of "Sesame Street," according to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that gave the five-year grant.
The project aims to reach 1.5 million refugee and displaced children up to the age of 8 in those countries with storybooks, toys, games and resources designed for use in homes and in health, outreach and community centers, the IRC said.
More broadly the "Sesame Street" programming, which will teach language, reading and other skills, should reach 9.4 million children throughout the Middle East via television, mobile phones, digital platforms and other means, it said.
Featuring colorful characters such as the Cookie Monster, Big Bird and other Muppets, the long-running "Sesame Street" is highly regarded for teaching children to read, count and learn colors, along with tackling issues of race, tolerance and death.
"The most famous street in the world is going to spread its message of joy and love and laughter to some of the most vulnerable children in the world," IRC Chief Executive David Miliband told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
"They've lost parents or brothers or sisters. They've lost homes. They've lost their country."
Millions of children across the Middle East, ravaged by civil wars and persecution, have been forced to flee their homes, fall behind or not attend school, live in poverty and suffer trauma and danger, according to world aid groups.
Miliband called the project a "long-term investment in the stability of the Middle East."
"It's a great commitment to the children we are going to help, and I think it's a great stake in the ground against the faithless who would say that the refugee crisis is insoluble," he said.
Asked which Muppet might be most popular in the Middle East, he said: "Everyone loves Big Bird."
As with other "Sesame Street" expansions, this will feature new indigenous Muppets, a Sesame Workshop spokeswoman said.
Launched in 1969, "Sesame Street" has won multiple awards for its approach, educational content and message of inclusion. "This may be our most important initiative ever, and we are humbled by the trust and confidence that has been placed in us, said Jeffrey Dunn, chief executive of Sesame Workshop, in a statement.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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