What is B+CARE?

Balkan Cultural Aid Response for Emergencies (B+CARE) is the result of a strong partnership between Cultural Heritage without Borders – Albania (CHwB) and Urban Development Center – Belgrade (UDC). B+CARE is a regional project that aims to:

  1. Understand the risks to heritage in the Balkans and formulate strategies to address those risks.
  2. Coordinate with and among national disaster response institutions and cultural institutions on effective strategies for cultural emergency response.
  3. Train and deploy a network of volunteers that can conduct ‘first aid’ for cultural heritage across the Balkans.

The catalyst for putting this project into action came through the inspiring courses of ICCROM. Staff of CHwB-Albania attended ICCROM’s course on “Disaster Risk Management of Cultural Heritage” at Ritsumeikan University, Japan in September 2014. And staff of both CHwB-Albania and UDC completed the ICCROM course “First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis” in Amsterdam in April 2015. These experiences and the support of the Prince Claus Fund (whose mantra is ‘culture is a basic need’) allowed CHwB-Albania and UDC Belgrade to partner up and launch the B+CARE project.

B+CARE now exists as a regional platform for training, awareness raising and response for cultural heritage threatened by disaster. With the first volunteer training on first aid to cultural heritage completed in March 2016, the wider B+CARE program is in its early stages. But already, there is a dedicated team of people at both UDC Belgrade and CHwB-Albania, along with the first group of B+CARE volunteers, who are pushing it forward.


A bit of history…

The desire to form something like the B+CARE volunteer network grew out of discussions within Cultural Heritage without Borders-Albania (CHwB), going back to 2012. Through CHwB’s Regional Restoration Camps (RRC), hundreds of young professionals from across the Balkans have been trained in the basic principles of heritage conservation, restoration and interpretation. After their experience at the RRC, many of the former participants wanted to stay involved and do more to protect cultural heritage in their communities. With such a dedicated web of people in place, we realized that a volunteer network of cultural first aiders could easily span the entire Balkan region.

The Serbian partner on this project Urban Development Centre was formed by a group of experts from various fields: history, art, archaeology, anthropology, economics, architecture, civil engineering, etc. The main objectives of the Centre are promotion of urban living and the promotion of culture and arts within urban areas. The Centre devotes special attention to the arrangement of public and exhibition space and to the protection of urban units, including the cultural and historical monuments that bear witness to the development of the city. In addition to these activities, the Urban Development Centre aims at promoting the application of advanced technologies and alternative energy solutions and environmental protection.


What is first aid for cultural heritage?

First aid for cultural heritage includes a broad range of efforts that are meant to preserve heritage and promote its recovery following a disaster. Just like first aid for people, first aid for cultural heritage prioritizes actions based on the damage and the surrounding context, and the key principle is ‘do no harm.’

Following a disaster, cultural heritage can be a strong force for helping communities recover. Preserving local heritage helps people to hold on to a sense of identity and a sense of place, even after their lives have been overturned. For this reason, the local community should always be at the forefront of first aid for heritage efforts — not only guiding intervention priorities but also participating in the response.

Volunteers who are providing first aid for cultural heritage will never be the first or the only actors to respond to a disaster. So, it is crucial for cultural first aiders to coordinate their activities with the relevant emergency response and humanitarian actors. The response to a disaster should always be human-centered. Human lives come first. But there is also space for a response that addresses cultural heritage while other human needs are being met. An approach that includes heritage alongside and within basic humanitarian relief not only does much more to save what communities value. It can also directly support a more effective humanitarian intervention.

Human-centered response also means that we should always keep in mind the reason that we work to protect cultural heritage. At the end of the day, it’s for and about people.

B+CARE. Because we care.