Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Solar Power Helps Villages In Cambodia Surf Internet




ROBAP, Cambodia -- Bun Ron is 13 years old and has never seen a computer in his life.


Plopped in front of a new Macintosh, he struggles to comprehend how the strange machine can do the amazing things that foreigners say it can, like grow better crops or help heal the sick.


"I don't know," is all the confused child can muster when confronted by a horde of journalists flown by helicopter to this desperately poor corner of Cambodia to witness the genesis of an ambitious experiment by U.S. philanthropist Bernard Krisher.


Bun Ron and 300 other children in Robap village will soon attend a solar-powered schoolhouse equipped with a computer that can be linked to the Internet via satellite.


Two solar panels on the roof of the school provide enough energy to run the computer for four to five hours a day. A satellite dish provides a link between the computer and a communications satellite, allowing access to the Internet.


Krisher, a retired magazine journalist living in Tokyo, sees these children accelerating past age-old hardships, like growing enough rice, and moving on to more modern dilemmas, such as hard-drive crashes and e-mail spam.


"People say we're crazy to do this - that these children need clothes, they need food, not computers," Krisher says of his solar school. "I think they can have both."


Krisher hopes Robap village will learn to use the Internet to cure diseases by linking up to faraway hospitals and relief agencies.


The schools could also obtain the latest crop growing techniques, he says.


But the education gap is obviously daunting for the children at Thursday's opening. They have no English skills - the language of the Internet - and they have never used a typewriter, not to mention a keyboard or a mouse.


"I have no idea what this is," 14-year-old Mom Theary says of her school's new computer. "I have never seen one before, but I want to learn."