Baytna: Spaces of play and joy
10 November 22
Sedayez arrives at the Baytna space with her mother, ready to greet everyone with her new signature dance move, the ‘plane dance’. She rushes to her friends and they decide that today, they will pretend they are a band performing at a concert. Sedayez is the trumpetist and has invited her mum to be the band’s private cook!
After some time, the facilitator brings the group together. The band members are invited to use sounds or melodies to share how they feel and Sedayez makes a loud, energetic trumpet sound! “How about we prepare another concert?” the `facilitator asks. The idea is cheered & welcomed and the children begin to prepare the ‘concert’. Some draw a concert poster together, others prepare decorations and craft their own instruments. The facilitator supports them, modelling encouragement, care and understanding.
The session is about to end and it’s relaxation time. The group is invited to sit comfortably and take deep breaths. They make silent melodic sounds during their exhales. Sedayez and her mum say their ritual ‘thank you’ to each other at the door, and head home together.
No day at Baytna is exactly the same. What is consistent, however, is the emphasis on joy and belonging and the responsive nurturing care provided by facilitators.
Baytna (meaning ‘our home’ in Arabic) is a unique early childhood development programme that provides key emotional support to displaced children and their caregivers alongside activities to facilitate healthy development and reconnection within families.
Early childhood is a critical period of development and how children are nurtured, their environment, and their sense of safety greatly impacts children’s development. For the 420 million children growing up in conflict zones and 35 million displaced children, this important period is disrupted by violence, stress and uncertainty.
Co-created with refugee communities, Amna developed the Baytna programme in 2016 to help refugees with support from Choose Love, Open Society Foundations, Bernard van Leer Foundation, Theirworld, Comic Relief, The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and many more partners who understand how vital it is to address trauma early in life and help displaced children build a positive and hopeful future.
He tells me how he feels. For example, he says now I am happy or sad. – Caregiver
In 2019, the Baytna Hub programme was established to bring this crucial care to more communities. Through Baytna Hub, we trained and worked with Athens Comics Library and ELIX in Athens and Open Cultural Center in Polykastro to set up Baytna spaces where children and their caregivers could heal in a safe and nurturing environment.
The Amna Baytna team trained and supported our partners over three-years to set up and deliver values-based, trauma-sensitive and identity-informed early childhood spaces for children and their families across Greece, based on Amna’s values of respect, curiosity, respect and connection. This long-term partnership meant that we could properly invest knowledge, tools and care in building them build their practice. The ongoing support and mentorship provided by Amna to our partners supported our partners to continue their high-quality work of supporting families through uncertain and unstable times, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
We trained 43 facilitators through Baytna Hub
When the Covid-19 lockdown began in March 2020, services for many refugees came to a stop and families found themselves isolated. It was important to continue supporting the families who attended Baytna so that they felt emotionally and socially supported.
We worked with partners to develop and deliver activity care kits to families and co-created interactive resources and videos for families, leveraging different strengths and the combined collaborative power of the Baytna network. These helped families experience Baytna at home with little to no materials required.
Identity is a core part of Baytna and the programme was co-created with refugees, leading early childhood development experts and trained and engaged with community (refugee) facilitators. It is deliberately identity-informed to ensure that the environment is representative of the communities coming to Baytna and to make sure the community’s needs remain at the forefront.
Our focus on identity impacts our training too. Our experiential training with facilitators examines how the biases we all hold unconsciously can impact work with children and how we can dismantle it. Being identity-informed also means that we acknowledge, respect and celebrate the multiple identities of the children and caregivers who enter Baytna spaces. Refugee leadership is a core principle at Amna and we prioritised training facilitators with lived experience of displacement to become Baytna facilitators so that the children can see themselves represented in those who take charge of the space.
The Baytna Hub programme reached nearly 5000 children and over 1000 caregivers.
Baytna sessions are designed to facilitate gentle emotional release and expression whilst enabling healthy development. We use healing play and psychosocial activities with children, youth and adults and psychosocial activities involving movement, music, storytelling and arts activities.
Each of them (the children) found their way to their true self. We watched them change, relax, grow. – Baytna Facilitator
A child’s early years are crucial in building a strong foundation for their development. Baytna provides a caring environment for children and gives families and caregivers a place to gain respite and reconnect with themselves and their children. Baytna has been cited as best practice for early childhood development and learning for children in crisis by the Nurturing Care Framework, UNESCO and Moving Minds Alliance.
2022 has marked the final year of the Baytna Hub in Greece. Throughout the programme we’ve seen the enormous impact of Baytna on children and their caregivers, as well as the facilitators themselves.
Being part of Baytna is a never-ending journey of self-discovery and exploration as the work progresses. It is a journey full of opportunities for reflection, knowledge, unique experiences, bonding and multilevel collaboration. I grow up with the Baytna children and Baytna families. Baytna is our home, as its name implies, a large family that has welcomed us, children and families and we grow up with it, we bloom. – Baytna Facilitator
Baytna has been incredibly successful since its inception because of its responsive nature and the respect given to families who enter the Baytna space. The programme focuses on empowerment, co-creation and building on children’s natural desire to learn and explore. Our facilitators develop positive and purposeful relationships with children, support children to build relationships with their peers and work with caregivers to develop positive and healthy relationships with their children. Amna and its Baytna partners have a wealth of resources and media that can be used by families at home or in Baytna spaces.
This is not the end of Baytna. As Amna expands its work to reach displaced communities around the world, the Baytna model is informing our collaboration with early childhood development organisations.
We are continuing to learn from our Baytna partners, the Hub programme and the communities we work with through reflective practice – a key component throughout all of Amna’s work. Reflective practice helps the Amna team and our partners engage in a process of continuous learning as we examine the assumptions, frameworks and patterns of thought and behaviour that shape our work.
The Baytna Hub programme showed us the power of solidarity, shared values and a network in supporting displaced families to recover and rebuild their lives. Our Baytna partners have become part of a global and growing healing network. As Amna expands its Refugee Healing Network into different regions of the world, this network will support the healing of displaced communities as they build resilience to navigate the uncertain next steps of their lives.
We’re already working across Europe and in Pakistan and Afghanistan. To find out when we’ll be expanding into your region, sign up for our newsletter.