Fifty members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s signature program for youth networking and leadership development in the region – recently completed “TechCamp H2.0: Supporting Healthy Waterways in the Lower Mekong,” a two-day workshop where participants learned how to harness technology to develop solutions for shared water challenges.
The event took place September 24 and 25 at Raintree Cambodia, an innovative workspace located in Phnom Penh. U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh partnered with the Center of Khmer Studies (CKS) to organize and implement TechCamp. In addition to the 50 YSEALI participants representing Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, twenty local and international technology experts from the United States, India, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Nigeria were trainers during the workshop.
“These YSEALI members represent a growing number of young people committed to preserving the environment for future generations,” said U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt, who gave remarks at the event’s opening ceremony along with Eang Sophalleth, Under Secretary of State for Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment. “With more than 6,000 members in Cambodia and over 100,000 members across ASEAN, YSEALI has become an effective vehicle for providing youth with the skills, resources, and networks needed to help turn ideas into action.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than 70 million people residing along the Lower Mekong basin depend on the river system for food and livelihoods. Despite the critical role that the Mekong and other waterways play in social and economic expansion, the region’s rivers face a number of threats including pollution, overfishing, and development. The primary objective of TechCamp H2.0 was to empower youth by giving them the tools to be their own best advocates and to develop joint solutions to the challenges that impact waterways.
A secondary goal of TechCamp H2.0 was to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, which many experts claim is one of the best ways for Lower Mekong countries to build their talent pool and diversify their economies. With technology’s increasing significance in the region, the workshop was the latest part of an ongoing effort by the United States and other countries in the region to encourage more youth to pursue expertise in STEM fields.
A wide variety of activities were conducted during the weekend, including in-depth training sessions, team presentations, and “speed geeking” – an innovative method to ensure that each participant can work with each trainer. The event coincided with the global celebration of World Rivers Day on September 25, which strives to increase public awareness and encourages the improved care of rivers around the world. With sustained engagement made possible through established networks, online communication, and pilot projects funded by seed grants, the TechCamp participants expect to remain committed to the goals of the workshop and join others in a global effort to protect our waterways.
TechCamp – sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs – trains targeted audiences on how to use low-cost, easy-to-implement, and highly effective technological tools to develop solutions for societal challenges. There have been over 40 TechCamps around the world, with topics in the areas of health, education, women’s empowerment, social inclusion, combating human trafficking, and more. More than 2,300 people from 110 countries have participated in TechCamps. To find out more, please visit www.facebook.com/TechCampGlobal.