Note: A much shorter recap of our trip (and more pictures!) can be viewed in my first post for the ODC Blog page here!
The excitement in the air was palpable, the idealism infectious. Enthusiastic chatter and laughter could be heard everywhere. Participants made the final touches on their presentations, while young attendees across the nation-joined by their peers from around the world-scurried from session to session to learn about a variety of topics ranging from mastering Linux to sharpening one's photography skills. Welcome to BarCamp Battambang!
BarCamp is an international technology conference which regularly brings together information-technology gurus, innovators, bloggers, students, activists, community organizers, and data journalists to share their passions on a wide range of topics and projects. Through their theme "Empowering Youth through Technology", BarCamp strives to connect youth from across the world as they interact with and learn from each other. BarCamps are held multiple times a year in virtually every region of the world, and from May 25-26 the latest SouthEast Asian edition was held in the lovely city of Battambang, the capital of the beautiful Battambang province.
And I Belonged There Because...?
Anyone who knows me knows that I am completely hopeless when it comes to technology. So what was I of all people doing in the veritable Southeast Asian Mecca of tech conventions? Great question!-and one which requires a quick update of my responsibilities with the East West Management Institute.
My fellowship with East West Management Institute thus far has been as dynamic and interdisciplinary as any summer fellowship can possibly be. In my third week here, I have already been charged with working on everything from researching Cambodian election law to editing proposals and helping run social media campaigns for various grassroots environmental and indigenous rights organizations-more on the latter on an upcoming post!
One of my primary responsibilities is to work on researching laws and regulations and drafting policy briefings as part of the Open Development Cambodia team. Open Development Cambodia (ODC) is the first project of its kind in Southeast Asia-and quite possibly the world-and is a "one-stop shop" Internet hub which aggregates and compiles any data relevant to Cambodia's development. ODC is dedicated to objectively providing open data for free to anyone interested in utilizing the information-students, government ministries, NGOs, investors, environmentalists, activists-literally anyone with Internet access and a curious mind about Cambodia and Southeast Asia's rapid economic growth. If knowledge is power, then ODC is a nuclear reactor generating waves of penetrating information. Really dorky/terrible analogy I know but hey cut me some slack-I'm just a law student so what do I know about science?! Remember, we covered this already...
Anyway, thanks to ODC's holistic and multi-faceted approach to analyzing development, our project utilizes expertise from a remarkable range of disciplines including computer science, economics, business, environmental science, social media, journalism, and, yes, law! Thus ODC actively facilitates the possibility of someone like me-with a woefully insufficient background in economics, business or technology, but with a passion for facilitating good governance and transparency-to play a genuinely meaningful role in contributing towards ODC's mission of encouraging better development practices through readily available information.
ODC Goes to Battambang!
In order to share ODC's work with vast segments of Cambodia's tech-saavy youth, a four-member delegation from the Open Development Cambodia team attended the two-day international technology conference BarCamp, held in Battambang. Along with ODC's Research and Volunteer Coordinator (and my direct supervisor!) Pinkie, and two senior mappers, Naro and Kalyan, we boarded a bus in Phnom Penh early Friday morning. After a picturesque six hour ride, we visited the Battambang campus of Build Bright University to speak with the organizers and volunteers. It was really amazing to witness their youthful energy, idealism, and dedication and we instantly knew that we were in for a fantastic atmopshere when it was time for the festivities to kick off the next day.
During one of the Saturday evening sessions, the ODC team presented in both Khmer and English to a packed room of 44 BarCampers, of whom 4 were expatriates while 40 were Cambodian students. The majority of the students were from Phnom Penh and Battambang, along with a significant presence from Kampong Cham. Our presentation emphasized ODC’s mission of compiling and sharing all data relating to Cambodia’s continuing economic development free of charge. The audience explored all of the various features of our website, with a particular emphasis on the versatility of the interactive Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping program.
"Too Cool! How Can We Participate?!"
During the Q&A session, audience members wished to know more about the history of ODC and the motivations and aspirations of our youthful team members. They also inquired about the numerous practical applications of the data available through ODC, such as how to establish community protected forests and how the GIS and mapping can be utilized to reveal a myriad of trends and underlying issues regarding development. For instance, superimposing "economic land concessions" over the "protected areas" on the map yields some troubling implications, resulting in much fascination and concern from many members of the audience.
Long after the session was over, audience members enthusiastically queued up in order to learn more about ODC’s expanding throughout Cambodia, as well as how they could actively contribute data and participate on various ODC projects. The students were all visibly excited to learn about the upcoming Khmer-language site–to be launched soon!
All Work and No Play...
After the day's presentations, we attended a BarCamp riverside dinner and networking party that night. We chowed down on delicious catered Khmer cuisine while chatting with all the other participants and attendees. The organizers then held a series of games in which they encouraged both Cambodians and international guests to participate! I participated in a game called "Super Easy" in which contestants had to laugh as long and as hard as they could. I finished as one of the top three contestants and won a free shirt! I was the only international BarCamper to participate, and must say the rest simply missed out :-P
During the course of the networking party, the ODC team was able to meet many different organizations from across Cambodia. I had a particularly memorable conversation with a delegation from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) as we discussed the changing political and social climate in Cambodia, especially in light of the recent visit by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Prof. Surya Subedi.
Finally, the night ended with a dance party! BarCampers of all ages jammed to PSY and other K-pop tracks, classical Khmer hits, Bollywood, and even Pitbull! Sorry Pitbull, but given the lineup I must say that you were definitely the worst track on our party playlist.
All Good Things...
On the morning before we returned to Phnom Penh, we explored Battambang's open-air markets and purchased bushels of Battambang's famous oranges for the rest of the EWMI team. During a rest-stop, I also tried pan-fried crickets! If I had to describe the taste, I would say they were like barbeque flavored potato chips but better...I honestly think "Crunchy Cricket" definitely has the potential to be a best-selling Lays brand! They should seriously get on that...
The ODC team thoroughly enjoyed learning from and meeting youth from across the nation. A special thanks from the entire ODC and EWMI teams to all the BarCamp Battambang organizers and volunteers for a fantastic conference!
Disclaimer: All views articulated in this article are entirely the writer's own and are in no way reflective of any other individuals, institutions or organizations.