Remarks by Peter Vrooman at the opening of the cultural heritage workshop

Remarks by
Peter Vrooman,
Chargé d’Affaires a.i.,
U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa
at the opening of the cultural heritage workshop
National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa
December 14, 2016

(As prepared for delivery)

Your Excellency Dr. Hirut Wolde Mariam, Minister, Ministry of Culture and Tourism,

Ato Yonas Desta, Director General, Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage,

Mr. Stephen Battle, World Monuments Fund Program Director for Sub- Saharan Africa,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here for two major events:

First, to welcome participants to this workshop on “Sustainable Conservation and Cultural Heritage Preservation.”  We are delighted that culture heritage experts from all regions in Ethiopia could join us.   Second, to witness the signing ceremony between World Monuments Fund and Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage.  They will sign a grant for $500,000 dollars from the U.S. Department of State that will support preservation work at the churches of Biet Golgotha and Michael in Lalibela under our U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation program.

The two-day workshop brings together practitioners and professionals to discuss three key areas: strategies to broaden heritage preservation in Ethiopia; guidelines for conserving rock-hewn churches at Lalibela; and the opportunities for local custodians of cultural sites to engage in heritage preservation.

The U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) supports the preservation of cultural sites, cultural objects, and forms of traditional cultural expression in more than 100 countries around the world. AFCP-supported projects include the restoration of ancient and historic buildings, assessment and conservation of rare manuscripts and museum collections, preservation and protection of important archaeological sites, and the documentation of vanishing traditional craft techniques and indigenous languages.

Cultural heritage endures as a reminder of the contributions and historical experiences of humanity.  By taking a leading role in efforts to preserve cultural heritage, the United States shows its respect for other cultures.  But beyond their innate value, a nation’s cultural heritage is a unique and precious resource.   Culturally significant sites are an enormous draw for tourism around the world, and these special locations can serve as powerful drivers for local and national economies.  To tap into that potential, it is important that the sites be both accessible and well protected.

Since 2002, the Embassy has supported 8 U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation projects in regions across Ethiopia, including Teferi Mekonnon’s palace in Harar, the historic castle in Guzara, the Sheikh Nur Hussein Shrine, and the just completed pilot project at Biet Gabriel Rafael at Lalibela.  This project was successfully completed in December 2015, and the church was re-consecrated in June 2016.   The approach undertaken by the World Monuments Fund at Biet Gabriel Rafael involved innovative and sustainable technical methodologies to clean and repair the stone work.  Masonry experts, artisans, craftspeople, and architecture students at Addis Ababa and Mekelle Universities also participated in several training workshops.  The significance of preserving Biet Gabriel Rafael should not be underestimated.   It broke new ground in the field of conservation through the knowledge and skills gained, which has been passed on to local craftspeople and professionals and recorded in technical guidelines.   Through these guidelines, the achievements at Biet Gabriel Rafael can be replicated, not only at other churches in Lalibela, but also more widely in Ethiopia.   Our new U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation grant at the churches at Biet Golgotha and Michael is one such example.

I would like to take this opportunity to convey our appreciation and sincere thanks to our partners: the World Monuments Fund, the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the National Scientific Committee, and the local Committee who worked hard to successfully complete the project at Biet Gabriel Rafael.  All of our partners will once again work closely together under the new AFCP grant.

In closing, the workshop on Sustainable Conservation and Cultural Heritage Preservation provides a timely opportunity to highlight the practices, approaches, and technical methodologies needed to preserve Ethiopia’s rich cultural heritage.  While Lalibela will be a key focal point during this workshop, there are many other sites in Ethiopia requiring immediate attention.  By working collaboratively to protect these heritage sites and to share best practices, we train and empower a new generation of conservation experts who can apply innovative methodologies and technique to safeguard Ethiopia’s heritage for future generations.

Thank you.