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Early Childhood Development in Emergency & Conflict (ECDEC)

The Context

Conflict and war are displacing millions across the world, driving the global refugee crisis. The data notes over 30 million children under the age of 5 were displaced in 2017. With over 10 times as many children living in areas of conflict, every day they are at risk of developmental delays. Thanks to decades of research, we know that all children need nurturing care, a comforting routine, and opportunities to learn through play in the critical first years of life. Sadly, only about 3% of humanitarian assistance goes to education and only a tiny sliver of that goes to early childhood development (ECD) services beyond survival.


The Projects

Ahlan Simsim

Ahlan Simsim, which means “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic, is the groundbreaking program implemented by Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) that delivers early learning and nurturing care to children and caregivers affected by conflict and displacement in the Middle East. Through a brand-new, localized version of Sesame Street and in-person direct services across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, Ahlan Simsim reaches families wherever they are—from classrooms and health clinics to TV and mobile devices—with the vital educational resources that they need to thrive. NYU Global TIES for Children (NYU TIES) is the program’s independent evaluation partner, leading the design and execution of impact studies on the program that will double the existing body of research around what early learning interventions are most effective for children in crisis settings. Generously funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the LEGO Foundation, Ahlan Simsim not only addresses immediate needs and builds a strong foundation for future wellbeing, but also has the potential to transform how the humanitarian system responds to crises around the world. 

Play to Learn

Play to Learn is an innovative new program from SW, BRAC, the IRC, and NYU TIES that harnesses the power of play to deliver critical early learning opportunities to children and caregivers affected by conflict and displacement. Made possible by a landmark $100M award from the LEGO Foundation, Play to Learn is reaching families affected by the Rohingya and Syrian refugee crises through direct services and educational media. Our program, tailored to meet the needs of the local context, provides the essential building blocks of play-based learning and lays the foundation for transformational change in early childhood development by generating a set of tested, scalable, and transportable models for use in other humanitarian crises globally—allowing us to reach generations of children affected by crisis and displacement, no matter where they are.  


Our Approach

NYU TIES is leading the independent research and external evaluation of these projects. Our researchers will conduct a longitudinal prenatal cohort study in Cox’s Bazar and implementation research and impact evaluations in both the Syrian response regions and Bangladesh. We strive to bring the most rigorous qualitative and quantitative evidence to bear on how to best serve families and children in their communities, particularly on issues related to:

  • Gender and disability
  • Stress and adversity
  • Quality of implementation of services
  • Diversity of cultures in refugees and host communities
  • Impacts of child and caregiver-focused programs on parenting, parent well-being, and children's development


The Project Team

Hirokazu Yoshikawa

Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education at Steinhardt, Applied Psychology

Alif Ahmed

Research Associate, ECDEC

Sneha Bolisetty

Operations Coordinator, ECDEC

Maureen Bowers

Associate Research Scientist

Niki Hill

Project Associate, ECDEC

Yeshim Iqbal

Research Scientist, ECDEC

Maung Nyeu

Postdoctoral Associate, ECDEC

Joyce Rafla

Research Scientist, ECDEC

Kathy Trang

Postdoctoral Associate, ECDEC

Fatima Zahra

Research Scientist, ECDEC