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Tech camp

PHNOM PENH – The United States Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia gathered different non-profit organizations from around the region for a two-day Tech Camp against human trafficking last week. This writer was fortunate enough to have been invited to represent the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and the concerns of Filipino migrant workers in this event.

Susan V. OpleIt was refreshing to meet other NGO leaders from Southeast Asia working on a common cause. The pork barrel scam in the Philippines has given non-government organizations a bad name, mainly underserved, because I’ve known several struggling but noble NGOs that do remarkable work in serving our country. Here in Cambodia, we are lucky to also have the following participants from the Philippines: John Piermont V. Montilla, National President of the Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay, Jonna Eleccion, Deputy Director of PTI Cebu, Ari Regino of the Visayan Forum Foundation, and Sr. Mary Adeline Abamo of the Salvatorian Pastoral Care for Children.

What is a Tech Camp? It is a fun, geeky, exciting way to try to solve huge problems through technology. The first day began with “speed geeking” where technologists invited by the organizers present the work that they do and the technology that they use. Participants listen to a 5-minute presentation of a designated technologist and move on to the next table to listen to another techie expert. It’s fun, effi cient, and mindblowing.

Technologists include such wonderful people like Adam Sharpe of MTV Exit, Becky Palmstrom of BBC Media Action, Cathryn Sticket of Frontline SMS, Kalsoom Lakhani of Invest2Innovate, and so many others. It was also good to once again touch base with Abraham Lee of the US State Department who delivered the closing remarks at the said conference.

From learning about technology tools, we were able to connect their strengths to the weaknesses in our own respective campaigns against human trafficking. For example, I explored with Cathryn Stickel of Frontline SMS the possibility of using mobile phone platforms to prevent the trafficking of women overseas.

John Piermont, on the other hand, expressed interest in the use of digital storytelling to share real life stories about male trafficked victims.

Technology is such a powerful tool and there are so many platforms and applications to choose from. I feel that the Philippines is more than ready to stage and organize its own Tech Camps on a variety of social causes. We certainly have our share of noble geeks that can teach NGOs and the government a thing or two about social media, crowdsourcing, and all the fun stuff that is going on online.

Richi Tio of MTV Exit said it best when he referred to trafficking in persons as the commodication of human life. “Social change is not linear. It doesn’t matter if it takes place online or offline but meaningful change happens when offline and online combine forces for social change. Technology can embolden people to act, not just to stand by.”

I think it’s simply wonderful to be living in this digital age where young and old can combine forces for a common cause wherever they are in the world. Technology applied to a cause such as an indignation rally against the pork barrel scam or something regional like an Asia-wide campaign against human trafficking, breaks barriers and mobilizes support for less costs and at great speed.

Through this column, I’d like to give a shout out to the US Embassy in Cambodia and the US Embassy here in Manila and the USAID office that made my participation in the Tech Camp possible.

I am a mom and an advocate but now I can say that I am also a geek. A geek with a cause, not bad for a 51-year old!

(Send comments to toots.ople@yahoo.com)