So far this week, I left the United States on Saturday, arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and rode on my first tuktuk on Tuesday, started at Open Development Mekong and found an apartment on Wednesday, arranged for an Australian couple to move in Thursday, and went out for my first taste of the Phnom Penh nightlife yesterday. It has been hectic, exciting, and exhausting.
The first leg of my journey was a grueling, sixteen hour flight from Dallas, Texas to Hong Kong. I felt like livestock: crammed into too tiny of a space, fed every six hours, and milked for every dollar possible. But, there was this moment at the end of the trip while we descended into Hong Kong where I opened the window. The sun was falling in the horizon and the clouds parted just enough to catch a glimpse of the city. As the plane circled around, the cloud cover ended halfway over the city. One side of a mountain range revealed a foreign city yet a familiar, urban form. The other side was still hidden, save for glimpses through the clouds. In that moment I realized that no matter how well-travelled I was within the United States or even how much I plan to travel in Europe, there is still this entire other place, with a foreign language, people, and culture. It was a bitter-sweet inspiration. With an entire world to explore, the only reason I would ever be truly bored is due to my own lack of initiative. This realization was also overwhelming—and not a little distressing—because it would take a thousand lifetimes to experience even a small portion of what the world has to offer.
Open Development Mekong is an NGO dedicated to open data. This means they focus on objective reporting and free distribution of data. Anyone can access the information, including journalists, private citizens, government, for-profit and non-profit organizations. For a democracy or an economy to fully function, the people must be able to find reliable information about their country. However, finding data and the documents to back it up can be a huge challenge. The OD Mekong and OD Cambodia teams have done a fantastic job of explaining a wide range of issues facing Cambodia and the region. They have also created tools to present this information in novel forms. I highly recommend taking a look at ODC and ODM maps page where a user can overlay different data sets to reveal trends that otherwise would not be apparent. For example, try overlying protected environmental areas, rivers, and hydroelectric dams.
One of the projects I will be working on is the water crisis. The Mekong was once one of the longest stretches of undammed rivers in the world. Now, Mekong states face a balancing act. With increasing energy demands and a huge potential monetary resource in hydroelectric dams from exporting electricity, damming the Mekong has become a popular solution. Laos aims to be the “battery of Southeast Asia.” On the other hand, hydroelectic dams will change the nature of the Mekong, potentially flooding many homes and reducing fish stock. I will be helping to research and present this information in a new way that tells the story. Keep a eye on the ODM Facebook page and ODM home page in the coming weeks as we post new stories. Presented in the right way, data-driven journalism has the potential to revolutionize how we approach the world.