World Monuments Fund have three projects supported by Cultural Protection Fund grants. We chatted with World Monuments Fund Director, John Darlington, to learn more about their Syrian Stonemasonry Training Scheme in Jordan and their project in Yemen which is equipping museum professionals from Taiz with the skills necessary to document the city's damaged cultural heritage.
Please could you tell us about the Syrian Stonemasonry Training Scheme in Jordan?
World Monuments Fund has been around since 1966, we have worked in a number of conflict zones and have a pretty good understanding of what happens to heritage in the aftermath of/and during war and part of this project was born from that experience. We were looking at what was happening in Syria, particularly the destruction of Palmyra, but also places where people live, historic towns like Aleppo and Homs; not just great heritage that’s been destroyed deliberately but also the heritage that has been simply caught in the crossfire of fighting. Because of our experience, we also knew that when the dust of war settles there would be an absence of people with the right skills to conserve and rebuild monuments of the past. In particular there would be an absence of conservation stonemasons who can preserve and conserve Aleppo or Homs or Palmyra, and that’s because they either died, fled or the educational system isn't there to provide training. We were looking at the huge numbers of refugees on the borders of Syria and thinking how can we make our project for those people. Our solution is that we train Syrian refugees and local Jordanians in the art of conservation stonemasonry, giving them the skills to rebuild heritage and to give them livelihoods as well.
The project started in September 2017 with 45 students, none of which had picked up a chisel before, who were a mixture of men and women aged between 15 and 43. Twenty of the best students received additional training and now have achieved essentially a City and Guilds level three qualification. The results have been absolutely amazing. Five of the trainees have gone into employment and the other 15 have been offered employment. The project is very focussed on people and building skills, not just the skills to restore heritage, but giving them hope and livelihoods and something for the future through heritage.
Our solution is that we train Syrian refugees and local Jordanians in the art of conservation stonemasonry, giving them the skills to rebuild heritage and to give them livelihoods as well.
Do you have any particular favourite moments you could tell us about?
Personally, it’s just fantastic to see the progress the trainees have made. One of our students, Mahmoud has produced a metre square sculpture divided into four parts which has this hoopoe (a bird) in the middle which is sitting in a pomegranate tree. Around the edge Mahmoud has carved a small architectural scene, which includes a tiny little town with a mill chimney to represent the UK and the tutor on the course, the master mason, who is from Yorkshire. I just love those little stories. Here is someone who has lost their world really in a sense in terms of the war in Syria and they have proven that they have real genuine talent, it’s those kind of moments when you can see the project has had a real impact on people.
Another moment, when you think 'blimey this is why I do the job', was when Notre Dame burnt down, one of the masons decided that he wanted to create a carving for Notre Dame as a gift. He’s created a beautiful little water spout in the shape of a fish, a really stunning piece of work. Really it was a gesture of sympathy and support for a world renowned icon of heritage from people who also work in that field and who have seen their heritage destroyed. I love that story about someone from the poorest part of society giving a gift to a rich Western nation to say 'I feel your pain'.
...it’s those kind of moments when you can see the project has had a real impact on people.