On May 26 and 27, around one thousand people and over 20 speakers attended the two-day virtual conference by UNESCO and the EU, Restoring Livelihoods Through Culture in Yemen, to celebrate Yemen's cultural heritage and restoration efforts.
The international event is held within the framework of the EU funded UNESCO project, Cash for Work: Promoting Livelihood Opportunities for Urban Youth in Yemen. Launched in 2018, the project employs young Yemenis in heritage restoration and preservation while promoting social cohesion and resilience through cultural programming.
"In our line of work, if we change the life of one [person], we have achieved something," said Anna Paolini, UNESCO Representative To GCC and Yemen, during the event. "The UNESCO-EU cash-for-work contributes to changing the lives of many."
As of May 2021, the project surveyed over 8000 historical buildings, repaired 151 buildings, and enrolled over 2500 young workers in Sana'a, Aden, Shibam, and Zabid.
Among the four cities, three are listed as World Heritage in Danger. "UNESCO and the EU cash-for-work project [is] actively contributing to get them removed from the list," said May Shaer, Chief of the Arab States Unit at UNESCO.
The project also engaged over 500 youth in cash-based cultural programming and services, organized consultative workshops for 50 culture operators, disbursed small grants to eight cultural CSOs, and distributed awareness-raising materials to 7M Yemenis.
The first day of the conference commenced with prominent speakers, policymakers, and young Yemenis discussing the project's milestones, urban rehabilitation in a conflict context, the project's preservation standards, and UNESCO-EU translation of international conventions into operational plans.
Yemen has already been suffering from economic and social disruption, and COVID-19 has only intensified it. Despite the setbacks and challenges, I witnessed the project's progress while following safety protocols.
Meanwhile, on the second day, speakers explored the untapped potential of local creative industries in Yemen, the importance of supporting youth-led cultural programming through cash-for-work schemes, and methods to build engagement and commitment to culture in Yemen.
The EU also wants to contribute to shifting the narrative about Yemen by demonstrating that positive and sustainable development is possible
Founders of several CSOs took the platform to discuss their outcomes. In partnership with SMEPS, the UNESCO-EU project funded eight CSOs in Zabid, Sana, Aden, and Hadramout. In return, the organizations supported 221 young artists and cultural professionals (62% females) in the creative industry, said Safiya Aljaberi, SMEPS Executive Director. This investment "strengthen[s] youth participation and involvement in the creative industry" while providing them with livelihood opportunities and skills, she said.
To celebrate Yemen's cultural diversity, the event also offered exclusive access to 12 short documentary films on cultural heritage produced in collaboration with UNESCO, EU, YWT Org, New York Film Academy, and SMEPS. The films are the outputs of an extensive training program utilizing cash-for-work methodology to support the livelihoods of 12 young Yemenis while gaining a unique set of skills by internationally recognized professionals in the film industry.
The outcomes of the YFF program came as proof that creative industries are a pathway for employment and economic growth