April 12, 2011
In December 2010, working in conjunction with Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Heritage Watch conducted its second community workshop on heritage awareness. The event took place at Kok Somroang village, northeast of Banteay Chhmar; where a burial ground known as Kok Amak was pillaged by looters in 2010. The burial ground is believed to date to the Iron Age (ca. 500 B.C. to A.D. 500); yet no archaeological research at the site has been carried out to confirm this suggestion.
Eighty-two individuals participated in this workshop, including government officials, local authorities, and villagers. The workshop aimed to raise public awareness about heritage sites and archaeological areas, and educate the local community about its responsibility to maintain these resources that reflect the social, cultural, and economic history of the site. The workshop also included discussions about the causes of looting and how the local community can contribute to decrease cemetery destruction. Villagers, many of whom own land indentified as archaeological sites, were also informed of legitimate and appropriate uses of their land that would preserve the land so that archaeological research can occur in the future. Anti-looting posters were distributed throughout the village. The workshop will hopefully have a positive result in curtailing heritage destruction. We will continue to reach out to potential local villagers who live nearby other threatened archaeological areas. The next community workshop is scheduled for May 2011.
In addition to the community workshop, Heritage Watch is actively implementing educational programs for 15 community members, training them to become cultural heritage guides with the objective both of creating a career path for these individuals and providing a memorable experience for the visitors. Progress continues to be made in improving awareness regarding the value of cultural heritage. The trainees in Heritage Watch’s English Language Training Program have shown considerable improvements over the past months. All the students continue to participate in various activities and support one another. Students continue to receive more homework and have been introduced to vocabularies pertaining to community, tradition, and significance of the heritage site, which in turn has helped to maximize their learning. Students have had an opportunity to put their English into practice through direct communication with visitors who come to Banteay Chhmar temple. “I feel more confident about speaking English after several months of participation in English class,” said Sopheng, a member of the Banteay Chhmar Community Based Tourism group. He hopes that after the completion of the English language program he will be qualified to enter the guide training program, so as to interpret and present the site in ways that reflect the value of its culture and historical significance.
As for the future guide training program, Heritage Watch is now at the important stage of developing a guide training manual for instruction. The initial drafts of the manual are being written and will be reviewed before they are consolidated into a complete and informative book for guide trainees. We expect that this training manual will have an audience even beyond the guide trainees. A well-informed collection of researchers has been assembled to produce the contents of the manual, and a professional guide trainer has been engaged to conduct the actual guide training. In addition, a map is being designed to describe the tourist route for the guides and visitors. Maps that display the several phases of the complex architectural construction and conservation of the site, as well as the locations of stone inscriptions, are also being developed. All of this will be useful when providing visitors information at the site.