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Tech-Savvy Cambodians Hope Advances Can Help Improve Lives

Screenshot of Cambodians in Tech's website.
Screenshot of Cambodians in Tech's website.

Guide Insider was one of 10 projects awarded by the Cambodians in Tech (CIT) event in Phnom Penh last month.

Ly Sokna and his colleagues worked until nearly dawn on a night in late November to perfect their tech project.

For months they labored over their new creation, an application called Guide Insider, as part of their big dream for technology in their homeland.

Having seen increasing numbers of tourists visiting Cambodia each year, a member of his group, a third-year university student, came up with the idea of creating a telephone application that links up new arrivals with recommended tour guides.

Their hard work has paid off.

At least 5 million tourists visited Cambodia this year, according to official data.

Guide Insider was one of 10 projects awarded by the Cambodians in Tech (CIT) event in Phnom Penh last month.

The projects on show included smartphone apps that provide medical advice to rural people who lack access to modern medical facilities, as well as an app that puts farmers in touch with customers.

“We are excited since we have been trying hard all together. In short we invest in it, so when we get what we wish for, we are very happy and excited,” Sokna said of winning the award.

“I think [apps] could help a lot since technology is advancing and it eases our livelihood,” he said.

Despite the advances in Cambodian tech-awareness, there are still many challenges to be overcome. However, increasing Internet access, the proliferation of smartphones even in some of the more remote areas of the country, and the rise in information technology professionals are helping to flatten the learning curve.

Almost half of all Cambodians now has a smartphone, a report by the Asia Foundation released earlier this year found, while official figures suggest upwards of 7 million people have Internet access.

“One of the study’s most interesting findings is that almost a third of Cambodians now use the internet to read and write – activities once limited to the classroom or office. This reading and writing activity allows them to access more information, enhance their communication skills, and increase their level of social participation,” read a statement from Asia Foundation.

Sokna said as well as CIT, other events, such as hackathons, were encouraging more Cambodians to overcome their tech phobia.

He also moderates a Facebook group where Cambodians share news articles about advances in technology, which so far has about 300 members.

Allen Dodgson Tan, the founder of local NGO STEM, said the major issue was a lack of funding.

“In the developed world, there are many competitions, workshops, after school programs and other supplementary learning opportunities,” he said.

Khut Sophors, a member of CIT, said funding to repeat the event next year was in doubt.

David Josar, U.S. Embassy spokesman, said: “We are especially supportive of steps to ensure young people have the skills and opportunity to work in this industry.”

He added that in September, the U.S. Embassy funded a two-day technology camp in Phnom Penh that brought together 50 young people with trainers and experts that helped the youth build their skill sets.

Also last month, the U.S. embassy hosted an event that encouraged youth to learn about coding and computer programming.

The U.S. embassy is one of the sponsors of BARCAMP ASEAN, an international technology conference and exhibition for technology professionals, business leaders, and innovators. The Embassy is also a sponsor of the annual Cambodia Science and Engineering Festival.