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Meet ThaRum: Cambodia's Second Most Famous Blogger

Tharum

Tharum started his blog in June 2004 while a student at the National
University of Management and working for the Open Forum for Cambodia, a Cambodian NGO devoted to digital divide issues.   He worked as a content editor for the Khmer language portal

Tharum became a celebrity when his blog was featured on the front page of the Cambodia Daily (the photo above was taken during that interview).    His fame circled the globe a few days later when another article appeared in Wired.   

I first "met" Tharum when he left a comment (one of the first!) on my blog in August, 2004.   I plan to get back to Cambodia in 2006 and hope to meet him face-to-face.

1.  A friend described you as an "IT Catcher" – can you explain what that means?

As always, young people are at the forefront of transforming their societies through the information revolution. I am personally interested in technology and I can quickly learn do something with it.

2.  What do Cambodian people think of blogs?  Are they familiar with  blogs? Do your friends and colleagues have blogs?  What do they think of YOUR blog?
 
A friend believes it is a tool he can publish thoughts, political analysis, and news review. He usually writes letter to the editor of the Cambodia Daily newspaper to voice his concern about the country. Few
people find it important, while the rest think that sleeping is a lot better. Few months after I created my personal weblog, I shared it with some friends. They, as far as I know, were not very interested in this
until my weblog was featured on the front-page of the Cambodia Daily. Since then some of them have created their own blogs. I was elated that some of them expressed support of what I have done so far with blogging.

3.  What benefits has your blog brought to you?
 

It is quite interesting to interact with people from different places all over the world. Some visitors write email to ask about working and traveling in Cambodia. This is good as I always want my home country,
Cambodia, to be known to the outside world.

4.  Do you think blogging will really take off in Cambodia?  What about the introduction of Khmer-Language software? 

Khmer Unicode and Khmer-language software, which KhmerOS project of the Open Forum of Cambodia have done, will be a major boost. People will find it easier in communication.

5.   You worked for the Community Information Web Portal Cambodia for a couple years as content collector.  What was the most interesting part of your job?  What are some lessons learned for providing local content for local people?
 
People need information. I was one of few others to carry out this work to help them.

6.   In the provinces, people can access Khmer language content via the CICs.  There are tremendous barriers – illiteracy, lack of electricity, etc — how do they get people into the CICS to read the content?  What has been the local response to the content you've developed?
 

I believe the Community Information Centres project, funded by the Asia Foundation, plays an integral part in connecting provincial people to information at this beginning stage. Government officials and
Non-Governmental Organization workers are the primary target. Students, monks, and ordinary people can be key players in further disseminating information to their villages. After the centres and the portal were
established, we launched a national promotion campaign to inform our  audiences. However, we do believe, great service and content will make people to help this further more. Of course, it is interesting when we
receive email from the center asking for information on how to cultivate productively.

7.   How are Khmer people trained to use computers in Cambodia?
 
Short training course are available from private schools and some Non-Governmental Organizations throughout Phnom Penh. A trainer with a manual can give an introduction of computer basic skills to as many trainees as it fit in a room. The very first thing to be familiar with computer is learn how to type, typing skill. Only some serious learners find books important to understand more.

8.   What is your biggest hope for the future of technology/Web/Internet in Cambodia and bridging the digital divide?
 

I do believe appropriate technology deployment will benefit poor and  rural people. Young people are quick learners. The skills will help them find job easily. In another point, it empowers Cambodia to be a
knowledge-based and democratic society.

9.   Finally, since you speak and type in English and Khmer – do you have any advice for me as I attempt to learn to improve my khmer and make it half as good as your English?

It takes some time to be familiar with it. However, it is difficult to learn it as quickly and easily as you first learn to type in English.  With courage, everyone can do it.

(In case you're wondering, the most famous blogger is Cambodia's ex-king)

Photo courtesy of Matt Reed, writer for the Cambodia Daily.  (Note:  Tharum tells me that this is his favorite casual shirt)

Cross-posted on Beth's Blog

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