Remarks by Chargé D’affaires Michael Newbill at the WMF 30th Anniversary

Phnom Bakheng, Siem Reap
Monday, June 10, 2019
(as prepared for delivery)

  • Good Morning. I am happy to join the World’s Monument’s Fund 30th anniversary celebration.
  • I would like to begin by thanking our distinguished guests for their presence here today: Her Excellency Dr. Phoeung Sackona, Minister of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Cheam Phally, the senior architect and coordinator for the WMF program in Angkor and the rest of the Cambodia WMF team
  • This event today is a testament to the longstanding and productive relationship between the United States, the World Monuments Fund and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.  
  • During the WMF’s 30 years in Cambodia, it has documented Cambodia’s rich architectural heritage and worked to stabilize and conserve important monuments.
  • WMF has highlighted Cambodian cultural contributions while also nurturing a generation of heritage professionals.
  • When the WMF arrived in Angkor in 1989 they discovered that despite the civil strife and international isolation the temples were relatively unaffected. Sadly though the country had lost a generation of heritage professionals including Angkor’s caretakers, architects and others.
  • The WMF recognized that there was important work to do in the field. Not only preserving and conserve these rich, cultural sites but also creating a new generation of heritage professionals who would be autonomous, independent and thrive in careers designing and managing conservation projects. This new generation has worked with international experts to acquire documentation, landscape and risk mapping expertise.
  • These Cambodian professionals now go on to train new Cambodian recruits, generating a virtuous circle which has resulted in a much lessened need for international experts at sites and speeding up Cambodia’s capacity to lead conservation efforts at sites around Cambodia and the region.
  • In the last 30 years the WMF has trained and provided professional development and career advancement opportunities to over 100 Cambodians.
  • The Phnom Bakheng project is particularly notable for its high percentage of Cambodian staff (all but one employee, in fact), providing employment and training to their corps of local laborers and technicians.  WMF’s workforce is drawn from the communities living within the boundaries of Angkor Archaeological Park.  The work has provided valuable job skills and assists with the stabilization and improvement of these communities through steady employment, health insurance, and increased knowledge of technical skills that can be transferred to other work opportunities.
  • I’m very proud that the Phnom Bakheng restoration project is the largest Ambassador’s fund project anywhere in the world.  We have contributed more than $3.2 million of U.S. Government funds to this project since 2004, contributions that have resulted in millions in additional donations from the private sector and philanthropic communities in the United States.
  • The WMF project at Phnom Bakheng has been funded almost continuously by the U.S. government since 2004 and the site has had 15 years of uninterrupted activity. The site is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. 
  • With Phnom Bakheng Temple, WMF studied the effects of mass tourism on the site and how best to preserve the site while allowing the public to visit.
  • The WMF was the first to conduct carrying capacity and tourism management studies for Phnom Bakheng and along with APSARA colleagues created an action plan to alleviate the overcrowding at the site, and at the same time to leverage its negative effects on the conservation of the monument.
  • Through the 2003 MoU on cultural property between the U.S. and Cambodia (recently renewed in Fall 2018) you can see the strong record of cooperation between our governments and our commitment to bilateral cooperation on cultural heritage preservation.
  • We are proud of this this cooperation and project and we are still committed to supporting the long-term conservation program at Phnom Bakheng as they enter phase 6 for work on the unrestored Western half of the temple pyramid.
  • Well done and congratulations to WMF for their work on Phnom Bakheng Temple and in Cambodia.