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2018 Internship Report - LEE, Yee Lak Elliot

Name: LEE, Yee Lak Elliot

Master of Philosophy in Religious Studies

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Position: Intern, Culture Sector, UNESCO Beijing Office

Duration: 27 August 2018 – 1 February 2019 (5 months)

Sponsorship: United Nations Peace Development Foundation

This is the first time that a UNESCO internship position was opened to candidates of the UN internship programme of the Peace and Development Foundation, Hong Kong. I was fortunate enough to have come across this opportunity. Throughout my academic pursuit, the problem of how to maintain mutual understanding among humanity in the context of cultural diversity for peaceful coexistence has been a core puzzle. Working for the sole UN agency established with a cultural mandate, which set forth for building peace in the minds of men and women would definitely provide me with a perspective to the above puzzle beyond what academia has to answer. Therefore, the internship position with the Culture Sector of UNESCO Beijing naturally became my first choice. Five months passed swiftly. The people I met and the things I did during the internship have proven that I made the right choice.

Compared with the majority of the Offices of other UN agencies located in Beijing (or in China), UNESCO Beijing Office is special in the sense that it is a Cluster Office, rather than a Country Office. The Office oversees the implementation of programmes and projects of the East Asian cluster, consisting five countries—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, Mongolia, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of Korea. Therefore, working as an intern there enabled me to involve in different programmes and projects with various countries. In particular, I was involved in two major projects with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Mongolia.

My first major duty was to assist in the preparation of the “Training Workshop on Community-Based Inventorying of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Elaborating Nomination Files under the Mechanisms of the 2003 UNESCO Convention” held from 26 September to 3 October 2018 in Pyongyang, the DPRK. This workshop was the first of its kind in the framework of an International Assistance project jointly implemented by a Member State and a UNESCO Field Office with the financial support from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund. It was aimed at reinforcing participants’ knowledge of the requirements and criteria of nominations, and covering more specialized topics such as joint nominations with other countries, how to apply for international financial assistance, and the importance of integrating sustainable development and inclusive approaches in nominations. Due to the difficulty in accessing outside materials from within the DPRK, it was important for our Office to prepare the complete set of materials, including the UNESCO official ICH nomination forms, before our staff departed for the mission. I was entrusted with a major task of compiling and arranging the necessary materials for the workshop. Through this task, I was able to get a sense of the methodical procedures and mechanism required for intangible cultural heritage nomination within the UNESCO global cultural governance framework. Aside from getting a glimpse on how a UNESCO mission operates, the timing of my internship was just right for me to witness the possible meaning of ICH listing for peace process. Less than two months after the workshop in the DPRK that included the topic of joint ICH nominations, the DPRK and the Republic of Korea together submitted a joint-application for the inscription of Korean Wrestling onto the ICH list. It was adopted by the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which met in Port Louis (Mauritius) in November 2018. As Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO declared, “The joint inscription marks a highly symbolic step on the road to inter-Korean reconciliation. It reminds us of the peace-building power of cultural heritage, as a bridge between peoples. This marks a victory for the longstanding and profound ties between both sides of the inter-Korean border.” However modest my part maybe, this personal involvement in the historic development of the peace process of the Korean Peninsula has fundamentally altered my understanding of the impact international cultural governance can make, and it will always be a memorable experience of mine.

The other project I involved in is an on-going tangible cultural heritage project on “Capacity-Building and Awareness-Raising for the Preservation, Conservation, Visibility and Sustainable Management of the Archaeological Site of Shoroon Bumbagar of Mount Maikhan” in Mongolia. Discovered in 2011, the 7th century C.E. Shoroon Bumbagar was the first tomb with murals discovered in the country. However, Mongolian professionals lacked experience and expertise in the field of murals conservation and restoration as well as preservation of underground archaeological heritage. Therefore, UNESCO intervened, as per Mongolian authority’s request, in the preservation of the tomb and the training of Mongolian personnel for mural conservation and restoration. By the time I got involved, the project was already at its final stage. The major part of this final stage was the publication of a Technical Guidelines for future reference by people in the field of mural and/or underground archaeological site preservation, especially Mongolian personnel. I was pleased that my editorial skills developed in the academia and from previous work experiences enabled me to smoothly facilitate the compilation and editing of this Guidelines written by four different UNESCO-certified international experts in artefact/mural preservation. Through this experience, I realize the importance of interdisciplinary knowledge in cultural heritage preservation. Most of the Mongolian professionals were trained in art schools, thus they lacked the necessary scientific knowledge in geology and chemistry that are essential for comprehensive and advance preservation of artefact. Global cultural governance mechanism of UNESCO made possible the transfer of relevant knowledge to developing countries, which is necessary for the preservation of cultural heritage from some of the most ancient civilizations and cultures in human history.

Apart from the aforementioned projects, I also supported the drafting and preparation of keynote speeches and PowerPoint presentations under the direct supervision of the Culture Programme Specialist for culture missions or events attended by her or the Director of the Beijing Office. These missions and events included the following:

  • The 3rd China International Conference for the Investment and Trade of Cultural Industry

  • First National Conference on Cultural Heritage, Mongolia

  • 2018 World Forum for Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Republic of Korea

  • 13th Beijing Normal University Model United Nations Conference

  • Asia-Pacific Regional Workshop on Intangible Cultural Heritage and Natural Disasters, Japan

Together with the two projects, these events covers multiple aspects of the different UNESCO Cultural Conventions, including the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005), the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003), the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001), and the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972). Through researches for preparing the speeches and presentations, I was able to familiarize myself with the Conventions and appreciate the depth and comprehensiveness of the international cultural governance system. One of biggest takeaway is the insight on culture’s role in the sustainable development of societies: creativity and heritage embodied in human cultural diversity ensure the successful implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Knowledge in humanities is therefore highly relevant to the sustainable development of countries and societies than mainstream opinion holds. This internship provides me with a unique vantage point to reflect upon the relevance and responsibility of an arts and humanities student in the global village.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my gratitude to all the colleagues in UNESCO Beijing Office, especially to those of the Culture Sector and my fellow interns. This internship would not be possible and affordable without the generous sponsors from the United Nations Peace Development Foundation. Last but not least, I am grateful that the Chinese University of Hong Kong, my home university, nominated me for this fruitful experience.

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