My Personal Experiences in Heritage Protection
Keo Vathana, Office Manager of WMF Cambodia, was raised in Siem Reap, home to Angkor Archaeological Park, the country's best known historic site. Keo grew up on the grounds of Conservation d'Angkor, a complex that houses many important artifacts from the site.
I was born and raised in Siem Reap. My family home is very close to the Conservation d’Angkor ministerial office, where my father was a department head. When I was young, I loved going to my father’s work place. I would spend time looking at all the ancient artifacts in his office. Some were in good condition and some were damaged. As a kid, I thought they were my friends. I often wondered why they were so different from each other.
I remember in the early 1990s, there was illegal trafficking of the heads of Angkor statues. During that time, my father was always on duty, to protect his department in the night time with his colleagues. There were often robberies at Conservation d’Angkor in the middle of the night, with the thieves using bombs and guns. I will never forget those times. Luckily my father stayed safe. He said he heard someone warn him during his sleep, so he burnt incense sticks and told the statues in the office, “I dedicated my life to protect you all, so now you have to protect me too.”
As I grew up, I always knew that all those ancient artifacts must be valuable if everyone wanted them so much. My family spent holidays visiting temples in Siem Reap. I felt sorrow to see most of the statues missing their heads and other parts of their bodies, especially at the gate of each entrance to Angkor.
Looking back, I can now say that my life always involved the historic temples—connecting to them, visiting them, touching them, and linking to their history. Even though I graduated in accounting and I worked in other fields, I finally came back to work with the temples!
When I started to work with WMF in 2007, it was not easy, as I was the new member, but I tried hard to understand everything. Nowadays I work closely with all my colleagues in the office and at the site in Angkor. I respect them all very much for their hard work in the sun every day. I am neither an architect nor an engineer, but I am happy to stand behind my colleagues and support them in the conservation of our heritage in Angkor.
Image top: Keo Vathana and her aunt in Angkor Wat, mid-1980s