Values & Respect for our cultural heritage from a younger generation

My name is Josette Burke, I am 23 years old and I am currently in my first year of the Social Work and Development Program at the UA. On May 17th I had the privilege to partake in The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) training on Capacity Building for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Curacao.

The director of the UNESCO National Commission of Aruba, Mr. Luc Alofs approached me with the opportunity to attend this training as the Aruban youth representative. Seeing as UNESCO works to empower and help youths to work together, drive social innovation and changes, participate fully in the development of their societies, eradicate poverty and inequality, and foster a culture of peace, I grasped the opportunity with the thought that this will be a great area to combine with my social work studies and also one of a kind experience to add to my resume.

The purpose of this convention is to provide and create international cooperation, assistance and a safeguarding plan in the Dutch Caribbean Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, St Maarten, St. Eustasius, and Suriname). When speaking about safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, what is meant is authenticity. An attempt is made to obtain more insight on our cultural heritage which can be defined as oral traditions, expressions, language, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festival events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and universe, and the traditional craftsmanship. We have interest in explaining social realities as they are perceived and understood by participants or communities. These social realities or ICH are based on interpretive philosophy and validations of others.

There are different ways to measure success of safeguarding. Many of the people who attended this training have a background of ethnography research, which originates in cultural anthropology. I truly believe that having a cultural anthropology background will benefit the safeguarding of the ICH because; this will foster, scientific, technical, artistic and research methodologies with an effective view of ICH elements that are endangered (2013 ICH Convention article 13). Also, it would help to aim and adopt appropriate, legal, technical, administrative and financial measures, which I have come to learn is a necessity for the Dutch Caribbean Islands.

The training was presented in a playful way that made it fun to learn. Each participant received a role from a made up country with made up ICHs to play during the game. Each of us had to choose an element to safeguard and defend why we want to defend our element based on the characteristics of our characters. Personally, it felt like we were part of an action research where a practical intervention was made and researchers were collaborating and being actively involved in the planned intervention to create a safeguarding plan for our ICH. We had to build a safeguarding plan based on the seven steps we learned.

The seven steps are as follows:
1. Choose the ICH that we want to safeguard.
2. Define importance of safeguarding the selected element.
3. Define threats and risks on safeguarding the selected element.
4. Main objective and results of safeguarding selected element.
5. Selection of safeguarding activities and feasible plan.
6. Define resources.
7. Plan of monitoring and evaluation of the safeguarding process.

It was a captivating experience because by doing this game as team, we came up with framework ideas, methodologies were being applied and people could show their areas of concerns. My experience at this training is one that I will never forget. It was interesting yet intimidating to be in a room with so many culturally passionate people from whom I learned so much. Even though everything was relatively new for me I still managed to participate and keep up with the training. My role during this training was to actively participate and give opinion from a youth representative perspective on the discussed topics. I also challenged myself to be the scribe of my group during the game, which was a big challenge that I volunteered to take which was a great way to get the feel on the process of making a safeguarding plan and also an effective way to grasp the process and information. With this experience behind me I have come to a bigger appreciation and respect for my own cultural heritage and now I have a better understanding on why it is important for islands or countries to able to define what their heritages are because this is what defines who we are and where we come from. I hope with this experience I will be able to raise awareness, motivate and educate others especially, our youths, about our cultural heritages, and to ensure mutual appreciation on a local, national and international level.

I would like to thank the facilitators; Nigel Encalada from Belize, David Brown from Jamaica and Henriette Deacon from South Africa for teaching us so much about the safeguarding of the ICH. I would also like to thank the Aruban representatives for a beautiful experience and opportunity: Luc Alfos (Director UNESCO National Commission Aruba) and Zetsia Ponson (Department Carubiana/Arubiana). And a big thank you to Curacao for hosting the convention, and all the other participants from the Dutch Caribbean islands that shared their culture and ideas with us. Also, thank you to the other youth representatives for their knowledge and friendship and I am in hopes of working together in the near future.

“Tin balor pa nos herencia cultural. Si no tin balor, no tin cultura, si no tin cultura no tin transpaso di herencia, sin transpaso……Kico nos lo tin sin nos identidad cultural?”
– Josette Burke

“Value our cultural heritage. With no value there’s no culture, without culture there’s no transfer of heritage, if there’s nothing to transfer…what would we have without our cultural identity?”
– Josette Burke