Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the Opening Ceremony for TechCamp Cambodia H2.0

Opening Ceremony for TechCamp Cambodia H2.0 [Photo by Un Yarat]
Raintree, Phnom Penh
September 24, 2016

Good morning, everyone! It’s a pleasure to be here to kick off TechCamp Cambodia H2.0. I would first like to thank His Excellency Eang Sophalleth, Under Secretary of State for the Ministry of Environment, for joining us today. Under the strong leadership of Minister Say Samal –who represented Cambodia at the “Our Ocean” Conference in Washington, D.C. last week – the Royal Government has made positive developments in the environmental area, helping to reduce illegal logging, protect Cambodia’s biodiversity, and promote healthy waterways – the theme of this TechCamp.

I also want to thank our colleagues from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, including my good friend Thomas Smitham, as well as the amazing team from the Center of Khmer Studies, who have collaborated with our Embassy staff to organize TechCamp. I also express my appreciation to Raintree Cambodia for hosting us in this extraordinary venue.

Of course, we wouldn’t be able to have TechCamp without two special groups of people: the local and international trainers here to share their expertise, and the 50 members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) that are here as workshop participants, representing the Lower Mekong nations of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, and Thailand. With such a diverse group of individuals – students, non-profit leaders, tech experts, and more – working together to use technology for the greater good, I know this weekend will be an unforgettable experience for us all.

I’m sure that most of you know more about technology than I do, so I won’t share my thoughts about “speed-geeking” or any of the other tehnical sessions. I would, however, like to put this TechCamp in a little bit of context.

As you heard earlier, TechCamp is a U.S. State Department initiative that engages and empowers people by training them to use low-cost, easy-to-use, and highly effective technological products to address a wide variety of challenges. The primary objective of this particular TechCamp is to give young people from the Lower Mekong the tools to be their own best advocates and to develop joint solutions to challenges that impact waterways.

Why is this important? As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has noted, unsustainable growth and development along the full reach of the Mekong are endangering the river’s long-term health and the region’s prosperity. The growing demand for food, energy, and water is damaging the ecosystem and jeopardizing the livelihoods of 240 million people. A broad strategy is needed to ensure that the growth of the Mekong region does not come at the expense of a healthy waterway.

This is one of the primary reasons that the United States joined with Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam in 2009 to establish the Lower Mekong Initiative. With multilateral cooperation that focuses on strengthening water management, improving health systems, and supporting education, LMI has led to a number of positive outcomes. One example is the Sustainable Mekong Energy Initiative, which encourages LMI countries to develop programs that will redirect their investments to innovations in renewable energy and other sources that don’t harm the environment.

With TechCamp, we have the opportunity to utilize technological innovation to advance the goals of LMI and get more people involved in these efforts – particularly young people. The youth of the region, which represents the majority of the population in Southeast Asia, are vital to the success of LMI and the future of ASEAN. I can think of no better way to strengthen Cambodia’s tech sector than to increase the number of young people studying science, technology, engineering, or math. That’s why a secondary goal of this TechCamp is to promote STEM education, since it is one of the best means for the Lower Mekong countries to build their talent pool and diversify their economies.

The 50 YSEALI members here today represent a growing number of young people committed to preserving the environment for future generations. With more than 6,000 members here in Cambodia and over 100,000 members across ASEAN, President Obama’s signature program for youth engagement in Southeast Asia has become an effective vehicle for providing young people with the skills, resources, and networks needed to help turn ideas into action. As TechCamp participants, you are now part of another powerful network which we will look to for technological support to protect our shared waterways.  I encourage everyone to utilize the tools, techniques and people introduced to you through this workshop to help solve these challenges, both now and in the future.

So are you ready for TechCamp? Congratulations on being selected to represent your countries and participate in this event. I expect everyone to have fun, make new friends, and find innovative solutions. Thank you very much.