Born on an islet in southern Cambodia, Rithy Thul went to Phnom Penh for the first time when he was 17 years old to get an education.
He managed to gain entry to the Cambodian University for Specialties, where he studied computer skills, while working as a part-time teacher at an orphans organization and living at a pagoda in Phnom Penh’s downtown district.
After two years at university, Thul decided to quit, opting to teach himself English and explore the country by bicycle to gain inspiration.
“I like to teach and study at the same time. If I teach others, I myself also learn something new. At that time, they also asked whether I could teach computer skills. I said yes even though I just started my computer class two days earlier. So, I researched on what my student wanted to study,” he said.
“In 2006, I quit. I went cycling around Cambodia. I went cycling with friends for one or two weeks, then I came back to work as a real estate agent in the city to get money. At the same time, I studied English online.”
During his two-week expedition, he decided he wanted to become a mathematician, but after doing some research he discovered that “most maths problems have been solved” so he decided to change track once more.
“From my perspective, I wanted to do something that will be useful for the next generation. So I thought I should probably do something else,” he said.
He decided he had do do something he enjoyed for a living, which led him towards working with young people on social projects. He began to research and learn more about technology, finally discovering what has become his life-long passion.
“I like to imagine what can happen in the next five or 10 years. If I don’t know anything about computers, it means I can’t speak a language. Maybe it is right, so I go home and do more research about technology. Also, almost everything we do in the future will need computer assistance. It can be said that if I depend on a person or a thing, I need to know how to speak their language.”
Earlier this year, Rithy and his team introduced their first major product: Cambodia’s first locally designed laptop, known as Koompi.
“In ASEAN, if we look at what has been done, there are a lot of things that have been done. If you want to do things, you can’t do it. but if you want to improve things, you can,” he said.
Thul says he is “disappointed” that others do not share his vision and feels guilty that he cannot do more to help.
“There are a lot of disappointments, but there are a lot of rewards, so it evens out,” he says. “The more obstacles there are, the more I want to show that things can be done.”
A video tutorial about Koompi by Thul Rithy:
Since creating Koompi, Thul and his team have turned their attention towards motorized bicycles, which he believes could help solve Phnom Penh’s traffic problems.
“We’re not creating an app; we want to provide an alternative tool. So, we look at how we can transform an old classic bicycle to a motorized bicycle. we challenge people who drive car to go back and ride bicycles but not have to expend so much energy.”
Thul says his inventions are intended to improve the productivity of young Cambodians so they can in turn invent their own tools and devices.
“To really improve a person and a country’s economy is to stay productive,” he says.