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Creative Mediterranean: resilience is built through creativity

07 November 2017 Danilo DE OLIVEIRA PEREIRA

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The town of Bourj Hammoud, located north-east of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is a mixed residential, industrial and commercial area and is one of the most densely populated districts in the Middle East. It is known as “Little Armenia” because it became a haven for Armenians following the mass killings of Armenians under Ottoman rule that began in 1915. Today, the area is one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in all of Lebanon, and is considered a “hip” place by the country’s young and creative.

Armenians, known for their craftsmanship since ancient times, brought the skills of jewelry-making to Lebanon. It is due to their influence that Bourj Hammoud has become a leader in the design and production of unique jewelry.

The effects of migration

When sick and exhausted Armenians arrived in Beirut after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, they were given the right to erect the houses and buildings which stand to this day on the eastern banks of the Beirut River, now the municipality of Bourj Hammoud. Lebanon’s welcoming attitude towards refugees hasn’t changed.

Today refugees from the war in Syria make up around one third of the country’s population. Lebanon has the highest number of refugees per capita in the world.

The sudden influx from Syria has produced a number of problems in Lebanon, unemployment being one of the biggest. One in three young people are unable to find work, even for very low wages.

This problem is not exclusive to Lebanon. Several neighbouring countries in the Southern Mediterranean region face similar challenges and need quick solutions.

Creativity can be the solution

To address this issue, UNIDO initiated the project, “Creative Mediterranean”, funded by the European Union and the Government of Italy. It operates in seven countries in the Mediterranean: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia.

The project harnesses the creativity of artisans. By bringing them together to work in a cluster, the it helps the craftsmen modernize their processes and increase the quality of their products. The ultimate objective is to increase the artisans’ access to international markets.  “Creative Mediterranean” provides technical support to a total of 13 clusters in the region.

The combination of modern design with traditional crafts results in unique products. With improved marketing and design skills, the artisans are able to become successful entrepreneurs, increasing their income and improving their living conditions.

A result of Asdarjian’s collaboration with another artisan, Roger Yessayan, Bookrah is a collection of 22 high-end pieces produced in gold, quartz and diamonds. They symbolize the Lebanese people common efforts to create a future together despite their differences.

The designer Nadja Zerunian partnered with UNIDO in order to help modernize Bookrah’s designs. “Heritage and creativity are powerful tools against unemployment. At the same time, they reinforce the feeling of belonging to a community. Their creativity and heritage become the tools which give them the opportunity to improve their lives,” she said.

The main goal of the project is expressed in the slogan “resilience through creativity”: developing people’s creativity to provide them with the means to transform their daily struggles into opportunities and to adapt to changes.