What is World Heritage?
World heritage includes places as diverse and unique as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Grand Canyon in the USA, or the Kasubi Tombs in Uganda.[i] They are designated as places that are of outstanding universal value to humanity, and as such have been inscribed in the World Heritage List. Nevertheless, these sites face major problems, such as pollution, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, poaching, armed conflict and war, uncontrolled urbanisation, and unchecked tourist development. Young people, as the future generation, still lack knowledge to contribute to the sustainability of heritage in all forms. But they are the ones who can innovate, through local activities, that can offer potential solutions to protect, preserve, and promote Heritage around them. Moreover, they are also skilled at using new digital communications tools, which, if used effectively, can help in implementing concrete solutions to protect these sites.
As a UNESCO initiative, developed in 1998, the World Heritage in Young Hands Educational Resource Kit, for secondary school teachers, advances heritage sensitisation in schools as one approach towards raising awareness among youth.[ii] This has contributed to the transnational conception of heritage protection, preservation, and promotion. While providing a global tool for schools, those not enrolled are, however, excluded from various forms of engagement in preserving local, national, and world heritage. It is important to equally involve out-of-school youth in the protection of our common cultural as well as natural heritage through increasing youth-led initiatives to protect, preserve, and promote heritage.
Varying Forms of World Heritages
The UNESCO Convention concerning the protection of the World cultural and Natural Heritage[iii], describes heritage in varying forms – the cultural and natural heritage. These two, furthermore vary in the forms of tangible and intangible aspects. Tangible cultural heritage is movable and immovable. Immovables include archaeological sites, architectural works, historical centres, monuments, cultural landscapes, historical parks, and botanical gardens as well as sites of industrial archaeology. Movable tangible heritage on the other hand, includes museum collections, libraries, and archives. Examples of intangible cultural heritage include music, dance, literature, theatre, oral traditions, traditional performances, social practices, traditional know-how, crafts, cultural spaces, and religious ceremonies and for natural heritage. Examples of tangible and immovable heritage are natural and maritime parks of ecological interests, geological and physical formations, and landscapes of outstanding natural beauty.
Protect, Preserve, and Promote
In a UNESCO-funded workshop on “Empowering Ugandan Youth through Culture and Heritage” held in Bulange, Uganda, in August 2021, 35 cultural leaders discussed the role of youth in protecting, conserving, and promoting the Kasubi Tombs built in 1882 (UNESCO’s World Heritage Site No. 1022). Utilising the World Heritage in Young Hands Educational Resource Kit, they concluded that:
- There is a risk that future generations no longer know much about cultural heritage preservation. If youth are not actively engaged in protecting and promoting heritage sites, they will sooner or later be littered with hotels, stadiums, and arcades that exploit the touristic potential of cultural sites.
- We need to preserve heritage sites as an expression of humanistic values that ancestors created with the intention of telescoping them to the future, allowing generations to interpret their symbolic meaning, and investigate past customs of human interaction globally.
- Heritage may not immediately appeal to younger generations. Still, knowledge gaps ought to be addressed, and misconceptions dispelled as an inclusive transition to promote an authentic heritage value system among youth.
The Youth Have Their Say
Workshop participants suggested that a regional transnational governance framework under UNESCO be supported, one that would be designed to promote a grassroots-based system driven by all categories of young people to enable them to act beyond awareness in support of promoting heritage. There could be a potential intra-regional role for the African Union in such an initiative.
While alternatives for young people to protect, preserve, and promote tangible heritage sites were made by speakers, it was also suggested that outreach initiatives such as using cartoons to mobilise youngsters in support of World Heritage protection and promotion be used. In addition, it was proposed that families engage young people in extra-curricular events such as excursions to nearby heritage places of interest, youth camps, cultural festivals, and exhibitions, as well as participate in role play activities to recreate traditional social events, such as processions, ceremonies, youth camps and festivals, using tradition to enable, integrate, and promote youth development for continued World Heritage preservation for future generations.
The way forward
Participants recommended various ways to move from sensitisation to action to protect, preserve, and promote world heritage from the perspective of youth engagement. Firstly, nation states should give responsibility for overseeing the security needs of cultural sites to youth through integrating them more into heritage management. While teaching based on the World Heritage kit by practitioners should include more about the provision of security as an essential factor for youth to innovate in relation to heritage related projects, global leaders should also ensure adequate budgets for heritage funds for youth to tap into and protect world heritage.
Moreover, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre should support custodians of heritage sites in transforming the intangible value of heritage sites into written descriptions. In addition, youth learning centres, or interpretive centres, should be constructed by nation states at bigger sites to facilitate the preservation of heritage. Lastly, there is an urgent need for better use of ICT and social media by Ministries of Culture among member states of UNESCO. This will facilitate the digitalisation of knowledge dissemination on heritage across the world, along with inviting youth to engage in diverse and creative ways for promotion, protection, and preservation of world heritage for the future generations.
[i] Definition of World Heritage by UNESCO. (see https://whc.unesco.org/en/faq/19/ retrieved on 11 November 2021)
[ii] UNESCO, World Heritage in Young Hands Educational Resource Kit for secondary school teachers (1998). The resource kit complement other initiatives including World Heritage Youth Forums, World Heritage Adventures cartoon series, Training seminars for educators on the use of the resource Kit, On-site skills-development courses for young people, workshops & conferences, and the World Heritage Volunteers initiative.
[iii] Varying Forms of Heritage are described in the UNESCO Convention concerning the protection of the World cultural and Natural Heritage (1972) see https://whc.unesco.org/en/conventiontext/. Retrieved on 06/12.2021