Announcing WOWi’s Angkor Wat “Digital” School Project

Cambodia children in Siem Reap

My wife Robin and I visited Cambodia for the first time in the fall of 2009.  We spent almost two weeks exploring the Angkor Wat temples, one of the world’s premier UNESCO World Heritage sites.  We’d long wanted to do that, and we of course thoroughly enjoyed the amazing temples. However, while spending time in the nearby city of Siem Reap we also noticed that the people there, especially so many children, still suffer the effects of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal rule of the country from 1975 to 1979 in which almost a third of its population of 7 million people were either murdered or starved to death. And being one of the poorest countries in the world, the country’s government cannot even begin to adequately educate school age children. And as we all know, without proper education the cycle of poverty cannot be broken and the suffering merely gets passed from generation to generation.

High above the Pacific on our way home, Robin and I began to discuss ways that we might help these children in some way.  Volunteering, say to teach English, would be one way.  However, it bothered me that doing something like that would barely tap into the large “intellectual capital” bank I’d amassed over the years. Through two careers, one as a professor of art and art history, the other as a senior computer interface designer for three Fortune 500 computer companies, I’ve been concerned in one way or another with visual images, the making of them and studying the ways that they affect people.  Why, then, not do something with digital media (computers) and art?

In 2010 Don Stevens, who also has an innovative technical background, and I co-founded The Windows of Wonder Institute (WOWi), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Our core idea was to  combine ART + WEB + LEARNING in an innovative way to build and connect communities, locally, regionally and globally through interactive digital media environments. These environments would be designed to evoke wonder, insight, and a sense of connection and, through that, generate revenue to benefit people in need all around the world.

The trip to Cambodia provided the desire and opportunity to do our first global project that would at the same time benefit underserved populations in Austin, TX and other parts of the US.  Earlier this year Keith Hajovsky, who also has spent years in the high tech industry and is a travel consultant and tour leader, joined us, giving us the right core team for such an endeavor.  We were then ready to go!

Today we are announcing WOWi’s first international project in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We will bring state-side audiences together with students of the Ponheary Ly Foundation’s Tchey school, and in the process we will provide technical training to these students and help raise money for the education of other children in Cambodia.

Ponheary Ly, for whom the foundation is named, was one of CNN’s 2010 Heroes. Having survived the horrific years of the Khmer Rouge, she has since devoted her life to educating Cambodian youths, believing that, to quote Simon Bolivar, “Nations will march towards their greatness in the direction given by its education.” WOWi will assist Ponheary Ly in realizing her vision by providing students with hands-on training in digital media — the lingua franca of the 21st century.

The Tchey school's new computer lab.

The Tchey school has a new computer lab and students eager to learn. A WOWi team, skilled in digital media creation and management, will go to Siem Reap for two weeks in November to begin training these students. The team will take along equipment, much of which will remain behind with the students.

During the team’s two week stay, students will be exposed to different types of digital media creation. One type involves making high definition digital recordings, some in 3-D, of selected architectural monuments in the Angkor Wat temple area. This is both a form of cultural preservation and a means to celebrate that culture in large-scale, interactive displays elsewhere in the world.

Another type of digital media creation involves the spontaneous use of social media to capture a complementary form of cultural record, one focused upon daily life as seen and experienced through the eyes of Cambodian youth. During WOWi’s two week stay, this spontaneously produced content will be made available daily to a world-wide audience over the Internet. It will also be made available in special format at selected view sites in Austin, TX. These sites will include retirement communities and other locations with underserved audiences. The two weeks in November will mark the start of a program that, while ongoing for a number of years, will eventually produce a self-sustaining, sophisticated digital media training school.

But to get this project up and running we need your support now! Our goal is to raise $30,000 by September 4, 2011, so please become a project member by making a secure, tax-deductable donation on Crowdrise today.

And if you haven’t done so already please join us on Facebook and Twitter. Likewise, please share this story with everyone you know via email, Facebook and Twitter. The faster we can get the word out, the faster we can raise the money for this project which will improve the lives of so many people now and in the future with follow-on WOWi projects around the world.

DONATE: Help by making a donation at Crowdrise




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