WOWi Project Kicks Off in Siem Reap, Cambodia

While football fans in the U.S. dreamed of Sunday’s big game, another hard-working team on the other side of the world kicked off an ambitious digital media project that links together a school in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and two schools and a retirement community in Austin, Texas.

Planning session in Siem Reap, Cambodia with Dr. Kim Smith, Robin Smith, Lori Carlson, Diana Gross and Keith Hajovsky

Call it synchronicity—everything aligning at once to create something new and meaningful.  Or call it synergy—media professionals, educators and students in two very different places working to improve lives and connect people on opposite ends of the world.

Whatever word you apply, it all boils down to a small, dedicated team with a lofty mission.

When Dr. Kim Smith—founder of WOWi—and Keith Hajovsky—a travel consultant who has been instrumental in this project—asked if I could go to Cambodia to help out, I was more than enticed. I had been to Cambodia in 2004 and had dreamed of participating in such a project since that time. Unfortunately, an ongoing job search meant a trip to Cambodia was not in my near future. Yet, the very nature of the project—to connect people in disparate locales—allows me to follow, report on and be a tiny part of a large effort.

Dr. Smith testing some equipment at the Tchey school's computer lab.

In the long-term, WOWi, aims to establish a Cambodian run digital media school to provide Cambodian youths with important 21st century skills. The two-week event in February merely begins a long and growing process. And success in Cambodia will provide WOWi with the tools and know-how to start this kind of program in other parts of the world.

The project uses the iPad Touch to create highly portable, handheld “digital media studios.” With these “studios,” students will shoot and edit pictures and videos to describe their lives and tell stories as part of an exchange with students here in Austin.

On the Austin side of the equation, students from both Connally High and Trinity Episcopal School will participate in this exchange.  Their mentors are David Conover—a digital media educator and Adobe superstar at Connally—and Sarah Venkatesh—a video producer and dancer from Trinity Episcopal.

Lori Carlson giving the WOWi team a tour of the Tchey School grounds.

On the Cambodia side, efforts center around a school in Cambodia—near Angkor Wat—called the Ponheary Ly Foundation School. Ponheary Ly, a 2010 CNN Hero, survived the Khmer Rouge and has dedicated her life to educating Cambodian children. The Ponheary Ly Foundation was created by Lori Carlson, originally from Austin and now living in Cambodia.

The team on the ground in Cambodia consists of Dr. Smith and his wife and WOWi partner, Robin; Keith Hajovsky; Diana Gross, a teacher already in Cambodia; and Chad Chislom—a photographer from Denver—who will join the team next week.

By the time they wake up on Monday in Siem Reap, the Superbowl will be over, but their adventure in the school will have just begun.

To read more about this team and others who are helping with the project see https://4wowi.wordpress.com/about/.

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