A student design charrette hosted by Paraa in collaboration with LEEDO which transformed a place of negligence (image 1) to a place of play and gardening (image 2)
LEEDO, (Local Education and Economic Development Organization – LEEDO – is a nonprofit local charity, working to improve the lives of vulnerable urban children, especially those living on streets in critical areas) with funding from Muslim Charity UK, runs SHETU, a Transition Shelter located in Babubazaar, which accommodates up to 20 rescued vulnerable children for some time, especially girls, before they can be returned to their guardians, if any. LEEDO employs field volunteers who work to offer the street children with choices within their environment and assist them to make significant decisions through a course of trust building. However, many of the children have no place of belonging, or what we know as ‘home’. The children are taken under care and given lodging, food and a minimal health support at the LEEDO Peace Home, in Bosila, near Mohammadpur, on the outskirts of Dhaka.
The shelter is at present home to a mix of forty boys and girls and two guardians, a mother and father. Currently enrolled in formal schooling, the routine of these children demand to include activities that help develop their physical and cognitive skills beyond class times. Divided into two floors of study and play, the lodging seemed to have a scope for a more interactive environment.
The charity is currently supported through fund raisers and other financial structures, but was in need of a reliable, self-sustaining food source, that could help make the foundation an independent self-sustaining model. LEEDO realized these needs and sought a child friendly space that allowed the opportunity of play, drama and recreation, but incorporated a space to grow healthy nutritious food.
Conventionally development planning commissions are thought to be critical and so should be dealt by professionals only. The method of place-making is however varied. ‘Place-making is a multi-stakeholder, multi-level and multi-sectorial approach. It requires a trans-disciplinary perspective which can only be ensured by bringing different professionals and communities together.’  It is a process that allows the potentials of a thought to prosper far beyond its physical aspects.
On this basis, Paraa took to an inclusive process, initiated with a student design competition, namely ‘Growing Up’ aimed at students and recent graduates of all backgrounds coupled with a minimum of one member from any school of architecture. Professionals and academics from the field of architecture and planning worked with a selected group of four teams comprising of 3 – 4 students on an average. They took to an action research approach and developed a strategy to examine the perception of play spaces, agrarian activities and other aspirations, if any were overlooked, respective to the children who are a permanent resident at the LEEDO Peace Home. Workshops led to understanding that there was a need for a place to perform, a place to study and observe nature through drawings, a space to “sing and watch the sun set” and a place of retreat.
Invited agricultural experts and child psychologists guided the various intrinsic proposals, understandings and perceptions of the participating teams towards a more holistic and child sensitive approach. Each team was encouraged to involve the user group being thoroughly guided where they thought of to include the children. Ideas further developed under the guidance of architects and practitioners, before going into execution, to formulate a sustainable model that comprised of innovative building methods, cost effective, environment friendly building materials and local participation. The initiative ended in the construction of a built environment comprising of play area, a performance area and growing areas.
LEEDO has recently been offered two land plots adjacent to the existing site, on lease for agrarian cultivation. It is working with Paraa to develop a model that ensures financial return. There is potential of involving the adventure sports community in Dhaka and expanding the play-grow model to a more larger scale, hosting regular events or a place of retreat within the urban fabric.
A participatory approach is vital in urban development initiatives that work to support sustainability, adaptability and outreach towards a wider community; involvement of students, architects, local artisans and gardeners, involvement of children (user group) engagement of other local charities. In countries like Bangladesh, where the rate of children in street situation is highly unpredictable and the user group is difficult to reach, an approach that helps develop capacity building and coping strategies within the user group are those that are long lasting, effective and achieve a widespread acceptance, because it addresses empowerment and excludes dependency. This process has been proved most effective and the fastest in fields of development for children in street situations, where ensuring that these children know themselves to be a part of the community is vital.
**work in progress
for more information visit: paraa.org.uk/