The traditional Yemeni stones carving craft is what Muhammed Abdullah is passionate about. For this 30-year-old man from the Old City of Sana’a, stones carving is an essential source of income that nourished his family for decades and to which he was exposed since his early childhood. Muhammad has not enrolled in secondary education due to the difficult living conditions of his family. His father needed his help to cover their basic needs. “The circumstances did not allow me to study, and my father insisted that I work with him and help him. As I am the eldest of my siblings, I had no choice but to leave school, learn a job and work.” Muhammed still remembers the time of his apprenticeship in the construction field, when he was a young apprentice at the hands of his father: "I learned the engraving and carving techniques years ago. I used to work with my dad and with anyone who needed help just to learn and make some money”.
The current conflict in Yemen has severely affected the construction field, including the stones carving industry, whose practitioners were unable to maintain incomes during the past five years, resulting in a severe shortage of revenues affecting the livelihoods of many people.
The circumstances did not allow me to study, and my father insisted that I work with him and help him. As I am the eldest of my siblings, I had no choice but to leave school, learn a job and work.
Since July 2020, Muhammed is enrolled into the cash-based urban rehabilitation programme, implemented by UNESCO and the Social Fund for Development, with the generous funding of the European Union (12 M. USD). This three-year programme targets the emergency stabilization of private houses and public spaces in four historic cities, including Sanaa, a World Heritage Site in Danger. “I produce stones that are needed to restore the City Wall and the old houses of Old City, which foundations require urgent intervention.” With his daily revenue of around 10 USD, Mohammed covers the basic needs of his family, consisting of his wife, his old parents, and his youngest brothers. Feeling pride, Muhammed, who is the only one employed in his household, adds: "Working on this project helps me provide a decent life for my family and me at a time when everything has become really difficult due to the increase in the costs of living and the lack of employment opportunities.”
Working on this project helps me provide a decent life for my family and me at a time when everything has become really difficult due to the increase in the costs of living and the lack of employment opportunities.
The joint UNESCO/EU project promotes the use of traditional building materials and techniques that contribute to the outstanding universal value of Yemeni Cultural Heritage. It aims at involving 4,000 young men and women over 500.000 Cash Working Days for the restoration of 50 historic sites in four historic cities, including 100 historic houses in Sanaa among which 40 were protected before the rainy season. Indeed, the conflict has resulted in a series of direct and undirect damages affecting the World Heritage Sites of Yemen and exacerbated the long-term neglect, lack of maintenance, and resources. The project does not only allow for emergency stabilization and rehabilitation of historic neighborhoods, but it also alleviates the living conditions of the local population by prioritizing private houses and public spaces (instead of monuments) and by providing daily incomes to young people who constitute over 70% of the local population.
The implementation of a cash for work scheme in a World Heritage property is the first experiment of its kind within UNESCO. The involvement of skilled and unskilled local youth communities in rehabilitation sites is accompanied by mentoring and coaching provided by the local master builders association. National authorities also guide works from each city, including the General Organization for the Preservation of the Historic Cities (GOPHCY), which facilitates the sustainable transfer and revitalization of technical skills and competencies that the young workers can use when the country enters in a reconstruction phase.