Welcome to Baytna, Welcome to Our Home
The Developing Brain
In the first year of life, a baby's brain establishes one million neural connections every minute. Every minute.
Although our brains continue developing through our whole lives, in the first six years of life our brains build a base for all further learning and development. In the first six years of life, a child develops a sense of self, builds up movement and language skills, and learns to express and regulate emotions. If, from the outside, a child's early growth can seem natural and organic—magical, even—children are actually very vulnerable in these formative years. It requires sustained, nurturing care to foster a young child's healthy development. Infants rely on their caregivers to channel their emotions, validate their feelings, and contain their fears and anxieties—in other words, to protect them.
Conflict and displacement, however, can rob a parent of the time and energy to give their children the full nurturing care they need. Without this protection, the child brain will continue developing on top of shaky foundations. As children denied of protection in their formative years grow to adolescence and adulthood, they will continue paying a cost—struggling to form healthy relationships and properly express their emotions, struggling to maintain stable family lives or careers.
Three years ago, we noted alarming shortfalls in early childhood programming amid Greece's refugee crisis. In response, we came together to form Refugee Trauma Initiative and bring trauma-sensitive, identity-informed early childhood development to the thousands of refugee children stranded in precarious camps in Greece. This laid the base for Baytna (Arabic for ‘Our Home’), our innovative, adaptive, and scalable model for early childhood development programming.
The foundation of Baytna is a wealth of expert knowledge, passed on to us by our partners at Open Society Foundations’ Education Support Program, the International Step by Step Association, and Zero to Three; and indirectly by fellow travelers at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, at the Lancet, and a range of other humanitarian and research organizations.
The walls of Baytna are the input of the field teams that conceived, implemented, and refined, everything from Baytna's fundamental assumptions to its day-to-day session plans over the years.
The light entering through Baytna's windows is the feedback from the refugee communities with whom we work, whose engagement and response are essential to the growth and success of the program. Baytna's relevance as a program is a function of its relevance to the community it serves. Watching children heal and grow, watching parents watch their children heal and grow, is not only rewarding at a personal level, but also a crucial step in continuing to improve the Baytna model.
The interior of Baytna are the incredibly talented, resourceful, and imaginative partners with whom we work to implement the project. For over a year now we have been working with Intervolve at the Irida Women's Center in central Thessaloniki, and with Open Cultural Center at their community space in Polikastro. Our partners are not just implementers, but co-authors in the growth of Baytna, receiving guidance and input from RTI, but also feeding reflections back to us. This cycle of learning creates win-win-win situations for RTI, for our partners, and for the families accessing Baytna.
The Baytna Hubs
This summer, we are growing the Baytna model further by formally launching Baytna Hubs, an innovative 12-month programme that is bringing on three new partners to deliver Baytna in their respective community centers. To support them, we host training and capacity-building events and will provide ongoing monitoring, advice, and encouragement through the operation of their Baytna.
In June of this year, we hosted the Baytna Hubs Kickoff, bringing together sponsors, existing Baytna partners, and new Baytna Hubs partners. The Kickoff allowed us to start making personal and institutional relationships, to lay down a foundation of common knowledge, and to set the stage for a range of actors, each of them unique, to find common ground on which to build a common approach.
Then, this July, we hosted the first of three Baytna Hubs trainings. This first training offered a broad look into Baytna's methods, taking participants through a series of theoretical and interactive sessions: working with PTSD and complex trauma, early childhood pedagogy, how to create safe spaces in unsafe contexts, working with respect... We also simulated Baytna sessions that teach children how to express themselves and connect with one another by engaging in free play, mindfulness, and crafts and art.
With this seed of shared knowledge now planted, we are eager to see each Baytna start growing over the next few months. We’re delighted to work continue working with Intervolve in the Irida Women's Center, with the Open Cultural Center in Polikastro, and with Solidarity Now in the Blue Refugee Center, and to start working with our new Baytna Hubs partners: ELIX Greece, Athens Comics Library, and Perichoresis! This project will grow and thrive on the ideas and feedback we share over the next year. Thank you for joining us on this journey, and welcome in Our Home!
InterVolve is a Greek grassroots NGO of flexible and dedicated team members committed to creating a culture of resilience, and providing individuals with resources to access their human rights. In January 2018 InterVolve created Irida: a safe, welcoming, participatory space, where women have a voice, a sense of ownership, and the opportunity to receive information and support. At Irida women have a chance to make social connections and build community; to bond, to develop, to thrive — all in an environment of safety, trust, and diversity.
Open Cultural Center
Open Cultural Center was set up in early April 2016 amid and among the community of refugees and international volunteers that came together in Idomeni to support and assist one another. Since then, OCC has offered classes and hosted a safe environment for children and adults, in Idomeni, Sounio, and Cherso camps, and, since early 2017 in the center of Polikastro. OCC offers educational support to infants, children, and adults, hosts a welcoming social center and computer lab, and supports refugee families living in Polikastro and in the nearby Nea Kavala camp.
Solidarity Now was established in 2013 to support Greek, migrant and refugee populations through innovative social actions, and to restore the vision of a strong Europe based on the values of solidarity and openness. Since November 2016, Solidarity Now runs the Blue Refugee Center, an open space where people of diverse backgrounds can attend social and recreation events, exchange information and experiences with one another, and receive various services, including education and livelihood programs, neonatal and mother-baby care, child-friendly programming, and psychosocial and legal support.
Perichoresis NGO is a humanitarian and non-profit association, based on the core values of volunteerism, social humanism and philanthropy. Back in 2015, Perichoresis was distributing food, water and clothing serving the refugees in Idomeni camp. Eventually, Perichoresis provided housing to vulnerable families through accommodation programmes funded by UNHCR, RefuAid-HelpRefugees, and other international organisations. Perichoresis' vision is to embrace every destitute fellow human being in the spirit of inclusion, providing protection, accommodation, legal support, social inclusion & educational programmes.
Athens Comics Library
Athens Comics Library are storytellers with a fantastic story of their own. A unique collection of Greek comic book lovers, Athens Comics Library run not just a physical library, but also, a comics website, a comics press, the Comicdom comics convention, and comics workshops! Like modern-day troubadours, they take their programs on the road, traveling to over 1000 schools over the last ten years to share their stories and their passion for storytelling, and in the last three years used them to help refugee children expand their imaginations.'
ELIX is one of Greece's largest homegrown volunteer organizations, deploying hundreds of volunteers domestically and abroad to assist in environmental, cultural, educational, and social cohesion projects. Since 2015, ELIX has been helping children, refugees and migrants, to integrate into the Greek society by providing educational programmes in a learning center at the heart of Athens, at schools of the Municipality of Athens in the framework of “Open Schools and with hubs in nearby camps.”
Welcome ELIX, Athens Comics Library, and Perichoresis to Baytna Hubs! We're delighted to start working with you.
Baytna Hubs is made possible by the generous financial and programmatic support of Help Refugees and of the Open Society Foundations. Thank you very kindly for your contributions: Baytna is your success as well as ours.
Thank you James Attree for the beautiful photography! See more at http://www.attree.co.uk