UNESCO, in partnership with the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property ( ICCROM) is to boost the world’s network of Cultural First Aiders as cultural heritage experts from more than 19 countries and four continents complete a training course in Bamako, Mali, on how to rescue culture in times of crisis.
The three-week-long training course (12 November – 30 November, 2018), entitled “First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis” (FAC Africa), is supported by Mali’s Ministry of Culture, along with the National Museum of Mali, the Alioune Blondin Beye School for Peacekeeping, the National Gendarmerie, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the NGO SAVAMA-DCI, whose mission is the safeguarding and preservation of the ancient manuscripts of Mali.
Designed as an international capacity-building programme, the course aims to improve emergency preparedness and response to ensure the safeguarding of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and aligns with UNESCO’s 2015 Strategy for the Reinforcement of Action for the Protection of Culture and the Promotion of Cultural Pluralism.
UNESCO’s experience in Mali, notably the reconstruction of mausoleums targeted by extremists and the safeguarding of the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu, along with successes in the rehabilitation of cultural heritage and humanitarian recovery, provide central case studies.
Primarily ‘hands-on’ and multi-disciplinary, the course draws on the expertise of trainers and participants already working in the field of cultural heritage spanning a variety of institutions including ministries of culture, museums, archival centres, libraries, architectural firms, conservation institutes, universities and humanitarian organizations.
Participants have had their first aid skills tested in multiple, practical simulations. Among these scenarios are the emergency structural stabilization of a building and evacuation of objects affected by flooding; the emergency evacuation of a museum collection; and the evacuation of objects from a shrine in coordination with military, police, and the International Committee of the Red Cross following the detonation of an explosive device by an armed group.
One of the trainers, Babu Joseph Ayindo, who is a researcher in peace and conflict studies in Kenya, said the course is an opportunity to learn from others more experienced in cultural first aid and to impress on younger generations the importance of culture in bridging differences.
“When there is conflict or disaster, sometimes we lose some very valuable cultural products,” said Mr Ayindo. “We need to find ways to be able to preserve these so generations upon generations to come can benefit from our experiences, even as they make their own cultural products that will be relevant to their own challenges.”
Following completion of their training, Cultural First Aiders will be equipped to act to protect cultural heritage in highly complex emergencies arising from conflict and disaster with the aim of promoting recovery, peace and risk reduction.