PRESERVING CAMBODIA’S PAST
HERITAGE WATCH was founded by Dougald O’reilly in 2003 after he witnessed widespread looting of ancient antiquities in Cambodia. The non-profit aims to preserve prehistoric sites there. “I felt the looting was an incredible tragedy ,” says O’reilly. “One can’t blame folks for digging around their homes to find anything of value, since poverty is what drives looters. But these sites give us clues to the rise of civilizations, about which little is known.” He had ideas for how to reduce the destruction, so he set up an office in his Phnom Penh apartment and mobilized some of his former students, paying them with his own money and taking no salary himself. “We began with small-scale projects, such as village training sessions, to educate locals on the importance of preserving the past.” Heritage Watch, which O’reilly believes is the first organization of its kind, also promotes responsible tourism: visitors are discouraged from buying antiquities, businesses are certified as “heritage-friendly” with stickers or signage to help travellers identify ethical companies, and locals are employed to work on excavations. And now Heritage for Kids is in play, to educate children about preserving heritage and the environment. “We have a pilot program in schools in northwest Cambodia involving some 600 kids,” says O’reilly. “The schools love it, the government loves it, and the kids love it.” In 2009, O’reilly won the prestigious Archaeological Institute of America’s Conservation and Heritage Management Award for his work leading the non-profit.