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Li Beirut one year on

Li Beirut (‘For Beirut’) is an international flagship initiative UNESCO launched immediately after the explosions, to ensure that education, culture and heritage would be the main pillars of the vibrant, culturally diverse capital’s recovery.

The aim is to raise funds and muster technical support from multiple partners to rebuild schools, historic buildings, museums, galleries and the creative industry, all of which suffered severe damage in the deadly explosions.

Lebanon has endured hard times in recent years. The conflict in Syria brought 1.2 million refugees to the country, a socio-economic crisis followed in 2019, then the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges were exacerbated when, in August 2020, the Beirut Port blasts struck the cultural heart of Lebanon’s capital.

A year later in August 2021, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini returned to Beirut to see the solid results achieved by the initiative, including the rehabilitation of public and private schools together with Education Cannot Wait. Through Li Beirut, UNESCO has so far rebuilt 95 schools, 20 technical and vocational education and training centres, and 3 higher education institutions. It is also supporting teachers and developing programmes to enhance distance learning.

A new Five-Year General Education Plan for Lebanon (5YP) was launched on the same occasion. The country’s first nationally led education plan, it will provide longer-term interventions and create a more resilient education system to provide all children with access to quality education, including marginalized and vulnerable populations.

Lebanon 5YP Plan
Under Li Beirut, UNESCO mobilizes support, partnerships and resources for Lebanon’s Five-Year Education Plan.

On the culture and heritage fronts, in September 2020, UNESCO organized three online ResiliArt debates with over 2,500 viewers, bringing together key Lebanese actors in creative industries, museums and built heritage to discuss the impact and challenges of the explosions and comprehensive approaches to the recovery.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network also mobilized in support of Beirut, a Creative City of Literature. About 20 Creative Cities around the world undertook solidarity initiatives, including fundraising and the collection of essential equipment, and ensuring the dispatch of emergency humanitarian aid in collaboration with NGOs and local associations. UNESCO thoroughly documented Beirut’s affected heritage, enabling the creation of a geo-referenced 3D model of three historic areas – Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhail and Karantina. This sophisticated new tool was presented to Lebanon’s Directorate General of Antiquities in August 2021 to guide rehabilitation plans

Working with Lebanese partners, NGOs and experts, Li Beirut has helped keep museums, galleries, artists and artisans afloat. In May 2021, Italy and UNESCO signed a €1 million funding agreement to reopen the Sursock Museum, an icon of Lebanese architecture.

In July 2021, UNESCO celebrated Beirut’s resilience and renewed creativity by organizing, with five local cultural associations, TERDAD (Resonance), a three-day arts festival of dance, theatre, cinema, music and comics. More than 3,000 people participated. Another project implemented by the Beirut Film Society, ‘Girls for Change’, is working to provide 100 young women with audiovisual skills.