HeritageWatch is attacking the supply end of the antiquities trade through an ongoing nationwide public awareness campaign. Informative radio and television commercials, comic and storybooks, and community workshops educate Cambodians about the importance of their great cultural heritage and what they can do to protect it.
In 2005, HeritageWatch began regular village workshops aimed at educating rural communities about the importance of protecting their local heritage. These workshops are an important part of HeritageWatch’s national education campaign—by going directly into those communities at threatened archaeological sites, HeritageWatch is reaching out to potential looters and educating them about the importance of protecting the past.
In August 2005, HeritageWatch staff spent a week in the northwestern province of Banteay Meanchey, working with 140 members of the community. Villagers, monks, and district officials listened to informative talks about the historical, religious, and economic importance of archaeological sites. Much of the workshop was hands-on, including guided discussions on the importance of protecting ancient sites, and the many causes of looting.
Most of the villagers attributed looting to ignorance, and felt that local people who realized the value of their heritage would be less likely to destroy it. Ninety-eight percent of the participants found the workshops “Very Helpful” and thought that they would contribute to a decrease in looting. Due to the success of these workshops, other training sessions were later held in Battambang and Oddar Meanchey provinces, with equally positive results.
Wrath of the Phantom Army
In an effort to promote the protection of Cambodia’s archaeological sites, HeritageWatch created Wrath of the Phantom Army, an action-packed comic book with an important message—that looting is destroying Cambodia’s great past and risking its future.
Set in provincial Cambodia, Wrath of the Phantom Army tells the story of angry spirits disturbed by the desecration of their graves by looters. “We produced this comic to reach rural Cambodians engaged in the looting of prehistoric sites,” said Director Dougald O’Reilly. “We needed a medium to effectively communicate the harm looting does, but in an entertaining way, that can be appreciated by the literate and illiterate alike.”
Due to its innovative approach, Wrath of the Phantom Army attracted a great deal of positive publicity. It was featured in local publications like The Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily, and also in the international media, including The London Times, BBC Radio, and the AFP Wire.
This comic is an important part of HeritageWatch’s campaign to educate Cambodians and foreigners alike about the dangers facing Cambodia’s heritage. The Khmer version of the comic is being given away in rural, impoverished communities where looting is most likely to occur. To cover the costs of this distribution, an English edition is available for sale throughout Cambodia and online on our page.
In 2006, Heritage Watch will begin regular educational workshops for the employees of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in areas of the country where looting is heaviest. These seminars, in addition to stressing the importance of protecting cultural heritage, will provide training on how to recognize recent looting and how to properly report it. NGO workers—especially those working in mine clearance or wildlife protection—are often the first people to discover looting in remote parts of the country. They are thus a great resource for protecting archaeological sites; a resource which has not been tapped until now.
The first training sessions will take place in Preah Vihear province, where antipoaching patrols working for the Wildlife Conservation Society have often witnessed looting in the past. Unfortunately, much of this looting has gone undocumented, as there was no system of reporting previously in place. These workshops will provide such a system through the already established Heritage Hotline, a number where the public can report incidents of looting to Heritage Watch, who then contacts the appropriate authorities.
The second series of workshops will also take place in Preah Vihear, addressing the various governmental and private agencies working in mine clearance—including the Mines Advisory Group, the Cambodian Mine Action Center, and the Halo Trust. These same organizations will be targeted later in the year by workshops in Battambang and Siem Reap provinces.
Heritage Watch would like to thank all the NGOs who have agreed to participate in these workshops, and to promote the Heritage Hotline in their organizations. Also, this project is possible due to the support of Friends of Khmer Culture, who funded both these workshops and the village training sessions already in progress.
Public Service Announcements
In 2005, HeritageWatch started running regular public service announcements on radio and television stations throughout Cambodia. Additional advertisements are being published in the Khmer language press (see English translation to the left). These announcements encourage Cambodians to take pride in their heritage and stress that it is being lost due to the antiquities trade. These advertisements also publicize the “Heritage Hotline,” a number for the public to report looting or archaeological discoveries.
HeritageWatch in turn contacts the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. The Heritage Hotline was launched in August of 2005 and quickly demonstrated its potential. Days after it was first advertised, a villager reported the discovery of a pre-Angkorian statue in Kompong Speu province. Several other finds have been called in since, from all over the country, and hopefully these announcements will make more villagers realize the importance of reporting and documenting archaeological discoveries. Most importantly, Cambodians are using the hotline to report imminent incidents of looting.
If the Stones Could Speak
In 2007, HeritageWatch will further its educational efforts with If the Stones Could Speak, a storybook promoting heritage preservation. Illustrated by the Cambodian artist Nhek Sophaleap, it follows the adventures of a group of magical statues at the temples of Angkor. Over the centuries, these statues face many challenges together, and eventually suffer the same fate as so many others - looting. But since this is a children's book, the story has a happy ending, and the statues are ultimately reunited at the National Museum.
If the Stones Could Speak will encourage a lifelong respect for cultural heritage among Cambodia's next generation. The book stresses the religious importance of ancient sites, especially to Buddhism, which is practiced by 95% of Cambodians. Children's books are a proven tool in the fight against the illicit wildlife trade, and HeritageWatch hopes this book will be equally successful in protecting cultural heritage.
If the Stones Could Speak will be distributed to disadvantaged children throughout Cambodia, but especially to those living in regions of the country where looting is heaviest. Distribution will take place in conjunction with the Ministry of Education and several non-profit groups working with children. HeritageWatch will also donate a number of copies to several major children's hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Heritage Watch would like to thank Chhun Tang, who volunteered his services as a professional designer on this project. This book would not have been possible without the support of Robert and Gina Davis, who generously funded both its production and distribution.