Muppets teach Syrian refugee children life-saving handwashing habits

Jan 31, 2018
By: Jan Butler, Director of Global Communications, Sustainable Health, World Vision International
Edited by Doug Blackburn.

A partnership between Sesame Workshop and World Vision is teaching young Syrian refugee children about safe drinking water, the importance of using latrines and good handwashing. By using creative fun, the partnership promotes healthy habits in 11 different countries around the world. Below, we’ve captured some of the children’s experiences learning with Muppets in Lebanon.

Two Syrian refugee girls inside a car.Being witnesses to the brutality of war in Syria and growing up in a refugee settlement affects children deeply. Millions of children are now facing challenges no child should ever endure: missing school, working as child labourers, poor physical and mental health, and girls vulnerable to early marriage.

World Vision staff women help Syrian refugee children get off a van.This is why World Vision brings them to its psychosocial centres in Lebanon to learn to express and handle their feelings.

Syrian refugee boys in a circle smiling.These centres are a safe space where children can be children again, where they can learn through play, and simply have fun.

Though they are safe from bullets and bombs, Syrian children are now at risk from other threats, including poor health. As one response to these threats, World Vision has partnered with Sesame Workshop to offer the Wash Up! educational program for children in Lebanon, Jordan and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Using books, videos and play mats, the Wash Up! program teaches children good habits of proper water use and storage, sanitation, and staying clean and healthy. All the materials are designed for the children’s unique contexts.

The teaching material features two Muppets: Elmo, and one of Sesame’s newer characters, Raya. The two loveable puppets teach children about proper hygiene, sanitation and water use. The ultimate goal is to protect children from diseases that contribute to childhood death such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

Raya’s blue-green skin colour and her outfit were designed to appeal to all children. She’s as welcome in Lebanon as she is in Zambia or India. Originally developed with generous funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Raya is an adorable girl Muppet who remembers everything she reads and pays close attention to hygiene.

Though not everyone gets to meet Raya in person like Fatima, shown here, the learning tools featuring the Muppets are proving that children learn best when having fun. Children say they love Raya and Elmo, and that they learn a lot from them about hygiene and sanitation. 

The power of the Wash Up! program, also operating Africa and Asia, is that it empowers children to become change agents in their community. 

Children are equipped to share with friends and families the healthy habits they have learned, such as wearing sandals to the latrine, storing and using water properly, and thorough handwashing—a key part of protecting children’s health. 

The partnership between Sesame Workshop, World Vision and the Syrian people is a fun and effective method of ensuring a healthier future for young refugees and their families. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, World Vision is the leading non-governmental provider of water in the developing world—reaching one new person with clean water every 10 seconds.