Sarah Westin

Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Smith, the Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Smith, the Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


Denver: And this evening’s semi-finalist of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change initiative is Sesame Workshop, teamed together with the International Rescue Committee to educate children displaced by conflict and persecution. And here to discuss their proposal with us is Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Smith, the Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee. My thanks to both of you for being here this evening!

Sarah: Thank you!

Sherrie: Thanks!

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Sarah Smith and Sherrie Westin  © gt.foreignpolicy.com

There are 65 million people displaced around the world; half of those are children. Under 8, there are about 12 million. So it’s a massive, massive scale.

Denver: Let me start with you, Sarah. Give us an idea of the scope of the refugee crisis and that of displaced persons at it stands today.  And how many of those are children?

Sarah: Thank you. The scope of the refugee crisis today is unprecedented. There are 65 million people displaced around the world; half of those are children. Under 8, there are about 12 million. So it’s a massive, massive scale.

Denver: And if you would for a moment, what’s the difference—because we hear it used so much interchangeably—between a refugee, a migrant, a displaced person? What’s the distinction among them?

Sarah: The most important difference is that a refugee is somebody who has had to flee their country. So they’ve crossed an international border, and they have done so because they’re in fear of persecution, and they’re fleeing for their lives. A displaced person is somebody who has also had to flee their home, but they have not crossed an international border. So they have stayed within their country, but they’ve also had to flee because they are in fear for their lives.

On average, a refugee stays a refugee for 17 years, and somebody who’s been displaced in their country… for 25 years.

Denver: And whether you’re a displaced person or a refugee, how long on average do you remain displaced?

Sarah: It’s quite shocking and I think this is one of the most unbelievable statistics. On average, a refugee stays a refugee for 17 years, and somebody who’s been displaced in their country… for 25 years. So this is a long-term problem.

Denver: So this is not a short-term solution; this is their life. This is their way of life for a quarter of a century, in some cases.

Sarah: Exactly.

Denver: Sherrie, what is the impact of violence and neglect and these unimaginable hardships on children and their ultimate development?

Sherrie: Well, Denver, there’s been so much research and evidence in the last few years on how detrimental those adverse childhood experiences – what is often referred to as “toxic stress” – is on a child’s development, with long-term repercussions to their health, not just to their cognitive ability, but to their health, to their livelihood. So we know that if we reach children in those critical early years, that we can make a huge difference on children’s outcomes, particularly for children who have been subject to violence or trauma because they need the help to mitigate the damage from that experience. So when you think of refugee children, obviously, these are children who have had extreme experiences that can really alter their long-term opportunities. And this is an area we know we can make a difference.

Denver: Sherrie, if you look at the totality of this worldwide humanitarian system, what kind of emphasis is placed on early childhood development, emotional well-being, and education?

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