20th November is the UN’s Universal Children’s Day. It was established in 1954 to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare. So today we celebrate how INTO is helping deliver this mission through its heritage education work.
When I first graduated, I worked in education for several years and because I now have children of my own I’m even more passionate it, particularly heritage education. In a fast-changing globalising world, our inheritance from the past becomes ever more important as a signpost to the future. There are lots of famous quotes on this theme, but I quite like the German tennis player, Boris Becker’s “I can’t change history, I don’t want to change history. I can only change the future. I’m working on that.”
And this is exactly what young people involved in our Heritage Education Project in Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zimbabwe will be doing! Learning about the past to inform the future. Working together across the continent to grow their awareness and appreciation of each other’s heritage; eventually becoming the heritage educators, activists, practitioners … the heritage ambassadors of tomorrow.
Can you imagine life without history, old buildings, beautiful landscapes? By funding this project, you can encourage future generations to preserve, enjoy and learn from their rich and diverse cultural heritage.
It may be a bit of a cliché but young people really are the future of protecting and preserving heritage all around the world. And I’ve been lucky enough to meet some really inspiring and amazing young people during my time at INTO, many of whom have been involved in our Conferences.
First of all who can forget 16-year old Eamonn Hayes of County Tipperary, who gave a passionate keynote address at INTO’s 2009 Conference in Dublin? I very well remember his plea to those present to take a stance, to make a change, so as not to disinherit his generation.
“I hope that those who hear my speech – including people like the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, John Gormley, and former President, Mary Robinson – can spread the message that the world is not just for this generation. Melting ice-caps, spreading deserts and flooding may seem like far-away problems, but if we don’t take action now, they will be a reality for every citizen of this world in generations to come. Do you want your legacy to be a damaged world that you pass onto my generation, and the generation after me?”
Next, at our 2011 Conference in Victoria, Canada, Liz Welliver from Maryland, Joe Young from the UK, and Abhinav Khanal from Nepal introduced their Pearson College ‘Be the Change’ video: “This video is a product of two missions – the Pearson mission to make education a force for peace and a sustainable future – and the Land Conservancy mission to conserve Canada’s heritage for future generations. Most of all, this video is the product of community.”
Filmed on a beautiful September Saturday morning, the video showcases the activism of the Pearson College community. You can watch it below.
“This spirit for communal activism carries us through our days at Pearson, whether we are in the classroom, the greenhouse, a village meeting, or working with local non-governmental agencies … As youth activists, we understand that this land is threatened by climate change and human development. We understand that it is our generation’s responsibility to steward the fragile remains of wilderness we have remaining, with 90% of Vancouver Island’s original old growth forestry already logged. We also understand that climate change is immediately impacting our homelands, from Nepal to the Maldives to right here, in Victoria. So, as the lyrics of the video will ask, “Who’s gonna save the world tonight?” we hope you find inspiration to be the change with us, the youth from 90 countries across the world.”
At the same plenary session, INTO Chair Fiona Reynolds, then Director-General of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, added: “The only solution is to engage people in the kind of future they want. Everybody should feel they have a stake in what is beautiful in their environment and a voice in how it is shaped in the future … The next generation wants to be part of the management of these beautiful places. This is about heritage and nature coming together and building people’s support and enthusiasm that turns into the confidence we all have that these places will remain for everyone forever.”
Finally in 2013, I met Evelyne Ninsiima, whose energy and enthusiasm for heritage education led to her founding a non-profit organisation that promotes cultural preservation through children: “I excitedly look forward to many more wonderful experiences working with INTO fraternity. Being an African youth full of enthusiasm, I hope to reach out to many more young people and let them appreciate the beauty of identifying oneself with their cultural heritage. The future generation depends on our present combined efforts of jealously preserving our rich roots.”
As a result of her involvement at the Conference, Evelyne wrote a great article about the work of the Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda and indeed our Heritage Education Project aims to build on their experience to strengthen Heritage Club provision in Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Furthermore, we will create an international digital platform bringing together at least 100 young people from each of the countries involved to develop their understanding of heritage and the importance of preserving it. In addition, they will learn how to promote their heritage, for instance by making and sharing a series of videos, which will raise the profile of cultural heritage protection more widely, both locally and overseas.
The project will build a community of over 300 new ‘ambassadors’ for heritage preservation. In time, they will become the heritage leaders, educators and activists of tomorrow, running their own Heritage Clubs and growing understanding and appreciation of cultural heritage. In a world of increasing globalisation and intolerance, our virtual network will enable the involvement of many others and as a result help build greater solidarity and cultural respect amongst young people, wherever they call home.
Please donate to our campaign today www.bitly.com/INTOAfrica and help us encourage African youth to embrace their heritage.