Digital heritage project to help improve Yemen’s image around the world [Archives:2009/1226/Culture]

January 19 2009

Nadia Al-Sakkaf
A group of three young ambitious girls came up with a new idea for their graduation project from the Youth Civic Engagement Program (YCEP). This project was to document the heritage of Yemen in Arabic, English, and eventually other languages. They called it the Digital Heritage Group which will be released in the form of compact discs and will be available for sale.

“We keep seeing abandoned documentations and ancient books talking about Yemen's history and heritage. We wanted to revive this heritage in a modern way so that our past is not forgotten,” said Ameena Al-Ajami, manager of the project.

Ameena Al-Ajamai and Leena Al-Maqtari were colleagues in the French department at the Arts College in Sana'a University. During their study, they often heard questions regarding Yemen's history and heritage. They realized that interested foreigners could not obtain adequate and satisfactory information on Yemen, which planted the idea for the project in the girls' minds. When they enrolled in YCEP, they decided to create a modern source for interested people on Yemen.

The third partner in this group is Abeer Al-Khashabi, a psychology graduate, who says it is embarrassing that outsiders document Yemeni heritage – not Yemenis themselves.

“Even when foreigners document Yemeni heritage, they do it from their point of view and their perspective. We want to do it as Yemenis,” said Al-Khashabi.

The YCEP provides an innovative year-long curriculum with a focus on experiential learning, networking, leadership, and skill building, all intended to prepare young women and men for their next endeavors, mainly as agents of change in the civil society. This program is one of many development programs that the Youth Leadership Development Foundation offers to Yemenis.

Dr. Antilak Al-Mutwakil, chair of the board of Youth Leadership Development Foundation, said the foundation supported the project because it was a new concept and aims at the country's development as a whole.

“This is the purpose of our work in general, as our aim is to encourage young Yemenis who have a sense of responsibility towards their country,” she said.


Since they first started designing the project in May 2007, the three partners have been struggling to complete it. The first phase – the documentation of the old city of Sana'a – took much longer than expected and went way past predefined deadlines.

Some of the reasons behind this delay are unfulfilled promises by agencies and individuals who promised to support the project one way or the other. As the girls put it, “the people did not have faith in the project or in our abilities as young entrepreneurs to do something worthwhile.”

They also faced difficulties in finding information that could provide details about the history of the old city of Sana'a. They had to get such information directly from the sources and meet with historians, researchers, and even elderly citizens of Sana'a to verify the information. Even the international sources were not taken for granted, as the girls felt some of the documentation did not contain accurate information. It took them seven months to complete the basic heritage information on the old city of Sana'a.

“We planned three months, but because of conflicts between information we received and the scarcity of resources, it took more than double that time,” said Al-Khashabi.

She also commented on copyright issues and that some researchers refused to give information, fearing that their credit would go to the Digital Heritage Group and not to the original researcher. They had to find at least five sources providing the same information to verify that it is correct.

“If there is a will there is a way, and because of our determination we were able to finally gather all the information needed,” said Leena Al-Maqtari.

Today all the information in Arabic is completed and translated into English. The multimedia product has been designed and is ready for circulation. The CDs will be available for the public after the project is officially launched next month.

The Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service, affiliated with the Yemeni Social Fund for Development and the Tourism Promotion Council, have promised to promote this project in Yemen's exhibition abroad.

The girls hope that cultural organizations such as the British Council, the French and German Cultural Centers, and other institutions will buy a number of the CDs to support the project and to provide their customers with a good source on Yemeni heritage.

About the Digital Heritage Group

The Digital Heritage Group is a corporation which seeks to contribute to restoring and promoting Yemeni heritage both inside and outside Yemen using modern technology. Believing in the motto “Your Future is Your Heritage