Solar Pi: Changing Cambodia (2019-2020)

In today’s day and age, technology can be found almost everywhere. It has drastically altered how our human world functions. From near-instantaneous communication to automated machinery, modern technology helps us to complete our daily tasks with ease, whether simple or complex. And with new advances in technology yearly, it continues to become even more efficient and useful. Technology has undeniably improved many aspects of the lives of billions who have access to it. But what of the other billions who do not?

One of the numerous aspects of life that has been made much easier thanks to technology is education. During difficult times such as this global pandemic, and with social distancing guidelines, technology has not only made education around the globe possible but also less of a daunting challenge. Through the use of smartphones and computers, students are able to learn better and in various ways. They have access to a multitude of online educational resources, can virtually connect with a peer or teacher, stay organized, and so much more. Unfortunately, it is a fact that not every single person is lucky enough to get their creative hands on modern technology, especially those who live in developing countries like Cambodia.

In Cambodia, although most people in urban areas have access to technology, many in the countryside, or rural areas that are distant and not populous, do not. Certainly, the number of users is larger by a huge degree than it was a few years ago. However, the world is ever-changing, and some are still unable to experience it. Some may not even be aware of it. For a country to develop and move forward, its people must do so first, so how do we get more people access to technology? During my fourth year at the Liger Leadership Academy, I joined a project and was able to play a role in helping answer that question. That project was Solar Pi.

Solar Pi is a project started in 2016 with the aim of introducing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education into government schools with solar-powered computer labs. Currently, two computer labs have been installed in two small schools, both of which are located in Takeo. With these computer labs, students have access to a variety of computer programs, which they can learn how to use. The Solar Pi team also developed a custom curriculum for students to follow in their computer class. It consists of learning 3 main programs: FreeCAD, a software for 3D design; Scratch, a program for its own block-based visual programming language; and Pencil2D, a software for 2D animation. To assist them in learning the programs, tutorial videos have been made by several Liger students as well.

I joined Solar Pi at the end of my third year at Liger. During my first months, I spent my time learning about the project and helping with basic tasks. Last year (my fourth year), Solar Pi became senior student Vornsar’s Impact Project, and I continued to be a part of it. Over the months, I worked primarily on the technological side of the project, updating the computers, installing new software, fixing technical problems, and organizing the computers for students to effortlessly navigate and use. In addition, I also helped edit the tutorial videos for FreeCAD lessons and went on trips to set up the computer labs.

Every now and then, I think about the students who are using the computer labs we installed, following the curriculum we wrote, and watching the tutorials we made. I remember the trips the team and I took to the two schools we work with in Takeo. I think about the students, the progress they could make, and what they could accomplish with the tools we have given them. It is quite a bit to take in sometimes. It brings me joy knowing that they now have new educational materials to learn from and different resources to work with.

To me, just the thought of changing someone’s life is already huge. Thus, to actually create that impact is truly a great accomplishment. And being a part of Solar Pi has helped make that happen. I was, and still am, extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to be involved in such a wonderful project. I look forward to the next time I visit the schools in Takeo, and I cannot wait to see how much the students will have gained from the computer labs we installed.

As of writing this, it has been approximately two months since my fourth school year ended. With the emergence of COVID-19 earlier this year, the world has gone into lockdown. New safety measures such as masks and social distancing guidelines have been put in place, and life has gotten quite hard. It may come as no surprise that many are struggling to get through this pandemic, myself included. 

I went into quarantine around the end of March, about three months before the end of the school year, and still am. I personally find it difficult to stay productive and focused when it comes to schoolwork. Other issues I face include staying motivated and optimistic, having a stable sleep schedule, and in general, being happy. But on the bright side, it has also allowed me to learn more about myself and the world, explore and try new hobbies, and contemplatively reflect on life as well as on my school year at Liger.

The school I go to, the Liger Leadership Academy, like most schools, has closed for safety and has moved to online learning. This change led them to face a number of challenges and to make sure students continue to receive education. It is unfortunate that the class of 2020 has to have their graduation either cancelled, postponed, or happen virtually. As the end of the year is getting closer, schools are trying to reopen while simultaneously being cautious of possible dangers. I believe that life is as hard, if not harder, for teachers as it is for us and that they are trying their best, and for that, I express gratitude to them.

If being at home for over five months has taught me anything about the world, it is that there are more uneducated people than I had previously thought. It is dispiriting but true that some groups of individuals do not believe that COVID-19 exists; hence, they do not protect themselves in any way when they go out in public spaces, endangering not only themselves but others as well. And when they are asked or told to put on a mask, they usually do not do so. To prevent this from possibly happening again, I hope that in the future, people will receive greater education and knowledge.

In spite of all the hardships that took place over the course of my fourth school year, it was definitely one of the greatest years I have had so far during my time here at Liger. Even though I’ve had my ups and downs, when I finally reflected upon the work I completed, it felt quite rewarding. I am also proud of the change that I was able to help make this year, and I am eager for the following years to come. As always, it was another awesome year at Liger.

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