Over 70 Palestinian Youth Volunteer for the Preservation of their Cultural Heritage

“My participation in this activity taught me a lot about the importance of and respect for heritage sites,” says Irena Luthon, a young volunteer at YMCA and a university student. “Our ancestors took good care of those sites, as they meant a lot to them. Heritage is the human being's imprint in the world and it is a way that expresses identity, beauty and authenticity. It is a reflection of history”

Irena, along with seventy other young Palestinian university students, representatives of youth organizations and media activists, volunteered to do community work during a tour of five different heritage sites in Gaza.

Organized in the Gaza Strip by the UNESCO Office in Ramallah on 19 October, 2015, within the framework of the #Unite4Heritage campaign and in cooperation with UNESCO’s Networks of Mediterranean Youth (NET-MED Youth) project in palestine, the activity aimed at raising awareness among youth about the importance and the value of heritage, its preservation, conservation and promotion. This initiative also aimed at developing youth appreciation and respect for heritage and cultural diversity, responding to the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage sites, particularly in the region, and countering the propaganda of hatred with messages of unity, tolerance and solidarity.

"This tour is a reminder to young people to respect their heritage. It is a means of communication with our time-honored history,” says Ahmad Al Qatrawi, a young university student. “This is the first time I take part in such a tour of heritage sites,” he continues with elation.

For Irena, Ahmad and other young volunteers, this was indeed a unique and rich opportunity. The young volunteers visited the heritage sites of Al Alami Arcade (rehabilitated by UNESCO), the Big Omari Mosque, the Church of Saint Porphyrius and Al-Basha Museum Palace in the old Gaza City. They then visited the archaeological site of Saint Hilarion monastery (Tell Um Ammer), which is inscribed on the Palestinian World Heritage Tentative list and located in the Middle Area of the Gaza Strip. The guided tours provided the youth with valuable information on the history, architecture and chronology of the sites. Youth, in turn, participated in voluntary maintenance works to clean the grounds, remove the weeds and wash the mosaics.

The young volunteers expressed their pride at being part of such an activity. They stressed how enriching it is for them to learn about the ways they can carefully and effectively protect and manage heritage sites, which are part of the Palestinian identity.

The voluntary community work in the Gaza Strip is an initiative that enabled the youth to create a positive attitude and to contribute to a change of behavior towards heritage preservation. Through their relentless and genuine involvement, the young participants showed motivation to support the preservation and promotion of their heritage and to take the #Unite4heritage campaign further. They engaged on social media with photos and posts because they wanted other youth and everyone around the world to learn, too, about the importance of heritage to all generations.

"Our heritage shapes our identity and forms the history of humanity,” says Junaid Sorosh-Wali, Head of the Culture Unit at UNESCO Ramallah Office. “UNESCO seeks to harness the power of heritage as a positive and unifying force that can help prevent conflicts and facilitate peace-building, recovery and reconciliation,” he continued as he briefed the participants on the #Unite4Heritage campaign and emphasized the crucial role of youth to advocate for the value of their heritage using the power of the social media to their advantage.

UNESCO’s #Unite4Heritage campaign was launched in March 2015 with the aim to mobilize global support, especially amongst young people, for the protection of cultural heritage, and in response to the unprecedented attacks on the region’s cultural diversity and heritage.

The Networks of Mediterranean Youth (NET-MED Youth) project is implemented by UNESCO and funded by the European Union. It aims at mainstreaming youth issues and priorities across national decision-making and policy implementation in eastern and western Mediterranean countries by building the capacities of youth and youth organizations and promoting their active engagement in the development and implementation of national policies and strategies on youth, ensuring that youth issues are adequately covered by national and regional media and by identifying workable models for improving youth access to employment and youth inclusion in different sectors.

Image: Launching on the #UNITE4HERITAGE campaign in Gaza © UNESCO