October 18, 2010
We at Heritage Watch believe that educating people about the importance of national patrimony has the potential to play an important role in site preservation and management. This needs to involve the youth and the local communities in the protection, use, enjoyment and preservation of cultural heritage. While development of cultural and heritage resources for tourism purposes has generated an increased local appreciation and awareness of local resident’s knowledge and understanding of their own heritage. This is becoming a matter of pride as visitors come to understand the community’s history and culture through interaction with locals. This interchange brings benefits that sustain Banteay Chhmar’s conservation, create local employment, and allow for economic development in the long run. This is what we are trying to accomplish at the late-12th-century site of Banteay Chhmar in northeast Cambodia.
As part of the Site Preservation Grant awarded by the AIA, Heritage Watch’s English training course officially commenced in mid June. Fifteen students are divided into two groups for morning and afternoon classes and each class meets two hours a day, five days a week over the course of twelve months. The students selected are Community Based Tourism (CBT) members residing in Banteay Chhmar. For the last three months, they have been actively engaged in lessons and various activities. The students have made consistent progress in improving their English. The more advanced class has begun ‘field trips’ with their teacher to temple, market, and surrounding areas to work on language and grammar as it pertains to the real world. Also, students started having discussions about Cambodian life and their community, though they find English very challenging.
In the interim, we are working on developing a manual for the guide training program which is our next stage after completing the English training course. We know that tour guides play a crucial role in transferring cultural understanding. It is crucial that tour guides should be able to present or communicate the historical relevance and attributes of the site. We have, therefore, finalized the contents of a manual that will include general guide and tourism practices for being a guide at a heritage site: how to engage the audience, interpretation skills, cultural heritage, history, art and architecture, archaeology, religion, conservation, and community. The first draft of the manual in Khmer (the local language) is almost finished. The next step is to translate the texts into English which will then be reviewed by professionals and experts contributing to this guide manual development.
Along with these two training courses, our second heritage protection workshop is being scheduled followed the first workshop conducted in April with the Banteay Chhmar local community. We plan to involve larger audiences in this workshop including officers from Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, teachers, students, heritage police, and other relevant local authorities.