Co-creating children’s environments through narratives

Kan Ya Makan is a project we developed in response to the 4th of August Beirut Blast. It sought to address children’s needs post-explosion by engaging them in a series of weekly activities that explored their relationship with space, and the environment around them. The project also involved the second phase of rehabilitating Karantina Public Park (you can read about the first phase here) to ensure the community’s vision of the park was achieved. The project was carried out by CatalyticAction, in partnership with Impact Lebanon, Nusaned and the AUB neighbourhood initiative, and in close coordination with the Municipality of Beirut. 

Kan Ya Makan means once upon a time, a play on the Arabic words Kan Ya Makan which emphasise place – Makan. Building on the idea of storytelling, this project was about children co-creating environments through narratives. The project took place in the neighbourhood of Karantina, an area badly affected by the explosion that we’ve been working in since 2016. 

The rehabilitation works that took place as part of this project were a response to damages caused by the explosion, as well as children’s ideas and needs for the space. The rehabilitation works involved the creation of “Beit Byoot”  (an outdoor child friendly safe space designed with the children), the implementation of three storage units, an access path and a new rainwater drainage system. We also rehabilitated the bathrooms, the guards’ room, the mechanical room, the park’s steel gates and all the benches and tables in the park. To activate the space with the community, we held a planting day with children and their caregivers and created two murals with the community. 

Throughout Karantina’s difficult history, the recent 4th of August blast has been one of the most distressing and destructive events that the neighbourhood has experienced. It not only impacted the neighbourhood’s built infrastructure, but it has also had a profound effect on people’s safety, security and wellbeing. Plan International warned of the particular impact this crisis could have on children’s mental health, highlighting the urgency for psychosocial support to address their needs.

Through the Kan Ya Makan program, we have sought to support children through these challenging circumstances. Kan Ya Makan is a child-led program that was designed to engage children in a creative journey of storytelling, arts, play, and spatial intervention. It sought to encourage exploration and enable children to express their visions for the spatial environments around them. The program unfolded with children reflecting on their personal and collective experiences of space. The stories that emerged throughout this process allowed them to express themselves and form new relationships with their community as well as their environment. Through conceptual exploration and practical implementation, the children were invited to become active agents in shaping the world within and around them. The program was divided into three phases, with each part exploring a different aspect of children’s relationship to space. 

PHASE ONE: Safe and personal Space

In the first phase of the program, children explored their relationship with personal and safe space. In the post-explosion context, children’s rising need for spaces in which they feel a sense of security are vital and this part of the project aimed to understand how this manifests itself for children. Children reflected on what kinds of spaces made them feel safe, relaxed and at home. Through various methods including storytelling, drawing and model making, they expressed their notions of personal space and developed their ability to communicate their needs, emotions and aspirations. The ideas that emerged from these activities informed the design of Beit Byoot. One of the most important outputs of this project, Beit Byoot is an outdoor child friendly space which provides children with safe and personal space – an aspect the park has been lacking until now. 

PHASE TWO: Stories of places

In the second phase of the program, children were encouraged to see themselves as actors of change. Taking them from the personal spaces they created in the previous phase, out into their neighbourhood , this phase aimed to help children reflect on their needs in the neighbourhood. Through activities including a neighbourhood walk, children mapped the spaces they liked and disliked, and the areas which they thought could be improved. By encouraging children to think critically about what they see and experience in their neighbourhood, they were able to reflect on what they want to change and they developed a sense of control and power to change their surroundings. These ideas were developed through a series of activities in which children developed superhero characters and imagined themselves with superpowers that would enable them to improve whatever they wanted. 

PHASE THREE: Sharing stories of change

In the final phase of the program , children were given the opportunity to present their ideas to the community through artistic activities and performance. This took place in the form of a parade, in collaboration with the art collective Zayraqoun. The parade was guided by children’s ideas and imaginations which they developed in activities prior to the day. They made props and costumes which reflected the things they loved and the ideas they’d been working on throughout the program. For instance, children came dressed in their superhero costumes and brought their love of the sea to the parade in the form of a travelling boat. The parade was a chance for children to march through their streets and create positive cultural memories in their neighbourhood. This kind of activation of public space will continue with the animation of Beit Byoot, through the painting of a collective mural. 

We believe that children have a right to feel safe, to play and to have a voice in the recovery of Beirut. They urgently need a safe place for which they can feel a sense of ownership. The Kan Ya Makan program sought to initiate this process of rebuilding and healing by engaging children in a series of participatory activities which encouraged them to reflect on themselves, their neighbourhood and their sense of community. 

We are planning to continue our activities with children to enhance their sense of belonging to the park. This is especially important as the park remains closed to the public. Yet, we are working to reopen it with the help of Beirut activists. 

Project ID

Year: 2020-2021
Location: Karantina, Beirut, Lebanon
Status: Completed
Partners: Nusaned, Impact Lebanon, AUB Neighbourhood initiative
Funding: Impact Lebanon
Collaborators: Zayraqoun, The Chain Effect


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