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Transcript GLOBAL CHALLENGES (CNN Sunday April 18, 25 , MAY 2, 9)
RAM RAMGOPAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the air, it's easy to see why Ratanakiri has a reputation for being one of the world's last remote frontiers.
This distant province in northeastern Cambodia is two-day's drive from the capital Phnom Penh on dumpy dirt tracks.
This day we're taking a commercial flight with Bernie Krisher, an American who knows this region well, having covered the Vietnam War for "Newsweek" magazine in the 1960's. That conflict spilled over into this very part of Cambodia.
Krisher now runs a number of charities to assist the country he has come to love and he used technology to help bring Cambodia into the 21st century.
On the ground in Ratanakiri, life proceeds at a gentle pace. First the cows are chased off the landing strip, then the plane comes in to land.
It's a region filled with natural beauty, waterfalls and lakes. Destinations that have not been discovered by many tourists. And even the name of the province is wrapped in romance. Ratanakiri means mountain of jewels in many Asian languages, a reference to the area's gem mining industry.
But for all the beauty, the comfort's of modern life are hard to find. There are no paved roads in this province. Electricity isn't available outside the main town, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and running water is a luxury.
Like the rest of Cambodia, Ratanakiri faces a variety of other problems. There are few schools or hospitals and its people are still desperately poor. But change is coming, slowly, thanks in no small part to Bernie Krisher.
Krisher is a popular figure here. Among other things, he's helped set up hundreds of schools, giving Cambodian kids basic education, even access to computers.
Krisher has found a number of sponsors around the world to help support the schools and he's also looking toward technology. In the absence of electricity, human muscle helps generate power for the computers, as do solar panels. What they don't have is a direct link to the Internet. No phone lines. No satellite dishes.
Enter the Motomen. These men and their metallic machines are the modern day equivalent of the postmen in Ratanakiri. On roads that can test even the toughest four-wheel drive vehicles, the Motoman has to weave a careful path. On his bike, precious cargo of stored e-mail that has been downloaded wirelessly to a chip inside a box on the bike.
The wireless system was developed by a Boston-based company, First Mile Solutions, building on the Wi-Fi technology that's become commonplace in offices and homes in the developed world.
As the bike rides up to the door of a remote school, in a matter of seconds the e-mail is uploaded to the school's computer and any of the school's outgoing messages get transferred to this box. Once the Motoman returns to the hub, the e-mail is sent by satellite to the Internet.
BERNIE KRISHER, PHILANTHROPIST: The Internet and e-mail opened up many opportunities. It's like building a highway. The highway permits transportation, transportation produces commerce, and so on.
RAMGOPAL (on camera): Your ideas are (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Some people could say, for instance, that the money you are spending could be better used for basic necessities, food, drinking water. What is your reaction to that?
KRISHER: Well, it can be and it should be, but I always say why not do both. I don't like to give people fish, I want to teach them how to fish. So my project is teaching people, not giving them things.
RAMGOPAL (voice-over): At Ratanakiri's only hospital, the patient's line up for urgent attention. They've heard there are visiting doctors this day from the capital Phnom Penh.
(on camera): For many of these people, this is the only access they will have to healthcare. While there many be smaller clinics for minimal first aid, for anything serious the people of Ratanakiri have to come to this hospital.
(voice-over): One of the most serious cases, 64-year-old Tengdo (ph). Doctors examine Tengdo (ph) and come to the conclusion that he's got a testicular tumor. They believe he needs prompt attention, but they'd like to get a second opinion.
In that, they're luckier than many similar hospitals in developing countries.
Doctors at the Ratanakiri Rural Hospital take photographs of their patient, gather their vital signs and then send them via the Internet to the best medical minds on the other side of the world in Boston. There doctors with the Massachusetts General Hospital and a volunteer practice called TelePartners look at the data and e-mail back their own diagnoses.
Hours later, the conclusion in Tengdo's (ph) case, he needs to be checked out at a larger hospital. He will take a flight out to Phnom Penh as soon as possible.
Like his other projects, Krisher is proud of the partnerships he's been able to forge across the oceans. But he acknowledges it's been a difficult fight in a difficult land still recovering from decades of war and totalitarian rule.
(on camera): What do you do when you run into problems?
KRISHER: Well, I succeed. I cajole, I persuade, I charm people, I yell and shout.
RAMGOPAL: Some people might say your style is dictatorial.
KRISHER: We don't have committees. I pretty much decide everything. But I've been successful in accomplishing things very quickly and I haven't hurt anybody in the process. So why not continue this way.
RAMGOPAL (voice-over): They've continued this way for generations in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Village. The only real livelihood here has been farming, until now.
(UNINTELLIGIBLE) sew the traditional shirts made here and decided they could find an outlet on the World Wide Web. Products made here are featured on a site, villageleap.com, and orders have come in from every corner of the globe. Once dirt poor (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is reaping the benefits of e-commerce.
KRISHER: It's a remarkably talented and wonderful society. This new generation is wonderful. And if you give them this opportunity to learn, especially computer skills, access to the world, the Internet, they're going to pick up a lot.
RAMGOPAL: One day, what the rest of the world calls development will come to Ratanakiri. But Bernie Krisher is just happy knowing these people have already leap-frogged to the information age with the help of some big thinking and some high-tech tools.
Ram Ramgopal for GLOBAL CHALLENGES, Ratanakiri, Cambodia.
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