Ung Pechata has always dreamed big.
The 12-year-old Cambodian had wanted to become an architect or inventor, but a technology competition has given her a new goal: solving social problems through technology.
Poun Pok, Pechata’s mother, is a communications officer at the European Union delegation in Phnom Penh.
When she suggested Pechata join the Technovation program, she thought it would be a way for her daughter to “kill time” at the weekends.
But it turned out to be much more than that.
After spending four months at Technovation Cambodia, Pechata and four team members have created Legendary Helpers, an application aimed at bridging the communication barrier between parents and their children.
Using the app, children can record their activities throughout the day, such as what they had for lunch and what classes they attended, so their parents can keep informed.
“We made the application because we thought that parents and children are having a difficult time communicating with each other about their daily activities, so it can cause problems,” Pechata said.
In early August, Pechata and a team member flew to Silicon Valley after being selected to pitch at the Technovation World Pitch in San Jose, CA.
Technovation Cambodia was launched by USAID in 2014. Each year Technovation Cambodia welcomes girls aged 10 to 18 to join the program at no cost. Each chosen participant is required to meet up every Saturday to learn the skills needed to develop technology for social change
The 12-week program ends with a national pitch session in Phnom Penh.
Along with team member Meth Sophea Rattanak, Pechata presented Legendary Helpers to international tech companies and fellow girl-coders from around the world.
“When I was there, I wanted to learn more, and I was really excited and surprised that I am going to the U.S,” Pechata said.
Pok was very happy to see her daughter’s success at such a young age.
“As a mother, when I see my daughter succeed like this, it’s like winning the lottery. It’s a big gift for me,” she said.
But it was not an easy journey for a girl like Pechata who started learning how to code at a young age.
“It’s very difficult. The more you know, the more you have to learn more,” she said. “It’s not that easy. There are a lot of things to learn about coding. If you don’t really understand one of them, you might not understand all of it.”
Pen Voneat, the team’s technical mentor, said she was very proud of the girls.
“When they were at the international pitch, they brought honor,” she said. “I was feeling very emotional when I saw them carrying the Cambodian flag, walking on the stage in the U.S with many other countries.”
Unlike many other Cambodian girls at her age, Pechata already knows what she wants to be in the future: a coder. And she wants to encourage others to do the same.
“If you really love to code, and you’d love to learn it, don’t let other people stop you from learning coding,” she said. “Always try your best to do it if you love something, and you want to do it.”