Yemen: The woman saving a crumbling heritage

Harbia Al Himiary is the first woman to lead a team as part of the Unesco rehabilitation project

Due to damage suffered during the country’s ongoing war, worsening environmental degradation and the collapse of the economy, three of the 52 World Heritage Sites listed by the UN’s cultural agency, Unesco, as “in danger” are in Yemen.

This includes Harbia’s beloved Old City of Sanaa and its Great Mosque, built in the 7th Century and famed for being the first outside the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

When Harbia travelled six hours from Sanaa to Zabid, for example, she found houses which had served as meeting places for the community in a state of disrepair — walls had fallen down, once brightly painted ceilings had crumbled, and some of the structures were close to toppling.

One of her greatest challenges, she says, was sourcing the materials needed to restore these buildings to their former glory.

Instead of waiting, she is training them herself. She manages a team of 24 and to date she has also helped train 211 engineers, carpenters and specialists — about half of whom are female.

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