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In Italy, Training War Refugees To Preserve Antiquities

The rubble of Palmyra after Syrian regime forces took the site back from ISIS
The rubble of Palmyra after Syrian regime forces took the site back from ISIS
Fabrizio Assandri

TURIN — Refugees have come to Italy from all across war-torn Iraq and Syria, from the monasteries of Mosul to the Assyrian villages of the Khabur valley and the Christian churches of the Nineveh plains. Among the millions now languishing in refugee camps are people from all walks of life, including government bureaucrats, university professors, archaeologists, and museum curators who saw artworks and monuments destroyed in war.

With that in mind, the Italian government is introducing a program that allows a small number of asylum seekers to take advanced courses on protecting cultural heritage sites from attack, weather damage and antiquities smuggling. The hope is that refugees will later be able to return to their home countries and help rebuild damaged cultural sites.

Launched by Project X-Team, a collaborative effort between the Polytechnic University of Turin and several universities and institutes in Turin and Venice, the program seeks to build an "educational corridor" for asylum seekers in Italy.

The program is just one of many such projects the government has launched to help educate refugees. To date, Italy is the only country to follow through on a European Parliament proposal that universities in member states provide online courses so that refugees can continue their studies if they return to their home countries. "This makes us proud," says Italy's Education Minister Stefania Giannini, .

The pilot project will begin in September with 50 students from war-torn countries. The students will primarily be Syrian refugees in Italy, as well as some at camps in Jordan and Lebanon. The intensive courses on artistic and cultural heritage will last eight months and be held first in the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont and later in a monastery in Veneto, in the northeast.

Under siege

The destructive reach of the Islamic State (ISIS) goes far beyond the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. "There's a cultural genocide going on in the Middle East designed to destroy works of art," says one of the program organizers.

Marco Gilli, rector of the Polytechnic University of Turin, says the courses will focus on interdisciplinary themes, from architecture to information technology and materials science. There will also be classes on cartography, museum archiving and drone surveillance techniques. Business incubators are involved in the program as well, helping to create jobs and give refugees the prospect of a safe return home.

The 1.5 million euro project still faces a few hurdles, including bureaucratic issues over how to verify applicants' education levels. The Polytechnic University of Turin accepts refugees that can't provide proof of a school diploma, on the condition that the university receives a guarantee from their home country or the Italian Education Ministry before they graduate.

Romano Borchiellini, one of the professors at the school, says the program is a bridge to the post-war future. "The armed forces must defend historical sites," he says. "But the experts we're training will supervise and rebuild them."

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Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGOTikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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