During the painfully long and exhausting eighteen-hour flight back to Auckland, I had plenty of time to reflect on the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee in Manama, Bahrain.
The conference was, at times, very challenging. Although we received forewarning at the training weekend about the problems associated with the World Heritage Committee, nothing can quite prepare you for the reality of attending the session. It can be very disheartening to see political interests take precedence over the integrity of the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and the conservation of heritage for future generations. However, I believe that there is still reason for hope in the future. In the week preceding the Committee session, the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities hosted the World Heritage Young Professionals Forum, who were invited to reflect upon the complexity of preserving heritage in a constantly evolving world. At the beginning of the Committee session, the forum had the opportunity to present their declaration to the World Heritage Committee. Their declaration emphasised their grave concerns regarding climate change and the disappointing response from the international community to this growing threat to world heritage. The danger which climate change poses to world heritage was a major theme at the Committee session this year, and it gave me hope seeing so much time invested in understanding and articulating the relationship between climate change and world heritage.
In a way, I found that our experiences outside of the conference itself were even more rewarding. I loved visiting Bahrain’s many archaeological sites and museums – the incredibly rich history of this geographically small nation was mind-blowing and totally fascinating. More importantly, I was able to experience an entirely different culture and worldview from my own. Even something as simple as reading right-to-left instead of left-to-right was a pretty significant paradigm shift for me, and experiences such as touring the Al Fateh mosque were really important for my personal growth vis-à-vis understanding and respecting different cultures and ways of life. Stepping outside of my comfort zone in terms of being in the mainstream of a population and personally confronting my privilege as a Pākehā in New Zealand was challenging, but also very rewarding. I am returning to Auckland with a much greater appreciation for different religions and ways of life, and a deeper awareness of the fact that the way I see the world is not universal.
I am also returning home with some amazing new connections. I am privileged enough to share my experiences in Bahrain with my fellow delegates Merekara and Manu, who always find new ways to surprise, inspire, and motivate me. The official representative of New Zealand at the Committee session, Sarah Bagnall, was incredibly generous with her time for us and offered us new insights and perspectives into the Committee session. There were also many people who I met at the conference who, regardless of how much time we spent together, taught me something new and increased my enjoyment of the conference overall.
Of course, this would never have been possible without the Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute, who provided me with this incredibly unique and inspiring opportunity. I’m looking forward to a good long nap before starting the next part of my journey with AYLI as I complete my fellowship.
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.