Canadian Geographic - - PLAIN OF JARS -

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.

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