Heritage Watch at Banteay Chhmar

Early in 2010, Heritage Watch received a site preservation grant from Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) for a two-year community stewardship program at Banteay Chhmar, the late 12th century temple complex remotely situated in northeast Cambodia near the border with Thailand. The site has suffered considerable damage through encroaching growth of jungle and aggressive looting for years.

The number of local and international visitors to the temple complex has dramatically increased over the past few years. Negative impacts of tourism and unplanned development are very real concerns at the site. 

Heritage Watch, working in partnership with Global Heritage Fund, is using the fund from AIA to assist with community development. Heritage Watch’s core initiative here is to ensure the sustainability in site preservation by involving the local community and helping them to understand the value of their heritage and its importance for economic development. The main goal of the project is to ensure that the benefits of tourism development flow back to the local community and is distributed appropriately amongst community stakeholders. This strategy increases local interest in the preservation of Banteay Chhmar and enlists the general public in protecting the site and developing tourism services in a sustainable manner.   

To realize the goal, the project is working on the ground with a Community Based Tourism (CBT) group through the implementation of three main programs:

1.     English Language Training Course 

2.     Guide Training Course 

3.     Heritage awareness training and outreach program 

The project has been in progress since June 15th, 2010. It started with 14 CBT members participating in English Language Training for two hours a day five days a week over the course of 12 months under the instruction of native English trainer. The program aims to provide the trainees with necessary English language skills that will enable them to cope with general and specific needs of visitors as part of their services being offered at the site. Monthly stipend is also provided to the trainees to compensate the time they are supposed to work to support their family. The stipend is given because their participation in the English training course is critical to the next stage of project, Guide Training Program. 

The Guide Training Program is to equip the trainees with the guiding skills needed to provide to visitors with substantive information regarding the community, site’s history, site’s context, iconography, current conservation works and archaeological sites around Banteay Chhmar. All of the information is of importance for site interpretation when giving a tour to visitors. A guide training manual is being written for use in training. The long-term aim of the Guide Training program is to see these individuals participate in and achieve guide certification from the Cambodian government. 

Education and raising awareness about heritage is also essential in involving communities in the process of preserving and enhancing their heritage. Besides the implementation of English language Training and Guide Training, the project is simultaneously conducting community training and outreach programs on heritage awareness by working closely with Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and local authorities at all levels. Various heritage training sessions, participated in by villagers, community leaders, teachers, students and monks, are carried out at threatened burial grounds and temples in the vicinity of Banteay Chhmar.    

"...the most effective measure now would be to sign more bilateral agreements with countries that are under assault from the antiquities trade..." - Roger Atwood.

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