Just occasionally something happens that encourages one to feel that Malta’s awareness of the rich cultural heritage it has been bequeathed has turned a corner.

Such a moment was reached with the announcement about the highly successful course the University of Malta had run in heritage conservation for teenage students at the Junior College.

Although when the organisers conceived it they were worried the course might be undersubscribed, in the event the response from students far outstripped their expectations. A course originally meant to take 15 participants received more than 80 applications and, in the end, had to be redesigned to take 30 “very interested and motivated” students.

The course ran from February to May and covered practical and theoretical lessons over 35 hours. The lessons ranged from interactive sessions in class to site visits and hands-on conservation sessions. As this was an EU-funded Euromed heritage project, in which the University is a partner with Israel, Italy, Belgium and Greece, lecturers included both local and foreign specialists.

The 600-year-old parish church of Siġġiewi, itself a recent winner of the annual Din l-Art Ħelwa Award for Architectural Heritage, appears to have been used as the site at which practical analysis and research of the conservation process could be studied at first hand.

Overall, the course brought home to the students not only the excitement and pride that comes from greater knowledge about what Malta’s cultural heritage means about the people we are but also developed their practical life skills of teamwork, respect for other persons’ opinions and how best to present reports or results.

The question must now be asked whether the course will be a one-off or whether there will be others like it. Also, how will the participants be encouraged to remain active in this line?

The fear must be that since it was EU-funded it will only last so long as EU money is available. That would be a mistake. The University, and specifically the Junior College, should seek ways of continuing with such courses on a regular basis. There is clearly a demand for them and the results have been outstanding. If resources are an issue, perhaps the possibility of the Junior College and the University’s Built Heritage Department, working in tandem with the Heritage Malta Restoration Centre, should actively be explored.

There is also considerable scope for including Malta’s voluntary sector in such projects, most notably Din l-Art Ħelwa and, possibly, Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna. DLĦ has a great tradition of schooling teenagers in their conservation work, going back 40 years when their youth section, Teenagers Din l-Art Ħelwa, was so active in saving the two outstanding mediaeval churches of Ħal Millieri and Bir Miftuħ. Last summer, DLĦ was involved in a similar project at the beautiful church of Tal-Ħniena in Qrendi when young French and Maltese students spent a summer camp living together restoring parts of the building.

Malta’s written history represents what is known. It is what is not known that should excite our imagination and curiosity. It is for that reason that we should conserve and protect the only evidence that our ancestors left behind on this island. Although the pressures on youngsters at school are so intense that sparing the time for such activities is difficult, the results of the Junior College and the University on the recent heritage conservation course give considerable cause for thinking there is a latent demand that would be in the interests of Malta’s heritage to tap.

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