The Pi-Top Champion

How a youth volunteer is empowering young people with coding and programming skills.

A youth smiling into the camera
UNICEF Bhutan/2020/SPelden
26 August 2021

Technology fascinated Ngawang Zangphel. A science exhibition he participated in when he was 14 triggered his passion for technology. “I became so interested in technology that I opened up any gadget I found,” recalls Ngawang.

But with school and examinations and home, Ngawang says he was was unable to give much time to technology. A regular at the Phuentsholing youth centre and a volunteer later, it was not until 2019 that he got a chance to reconnect with technology.

In July that year, he was among the 22 youth who attended a Pi-Top training  in Thimphu.

UNICEF Bhutan had partnered with Fablab Bhutan to organize the training to promote digital engagement and participation of adolescents through Pi-Top project. Pi-Tops are modular laptops that introduce young people to coding and empowers them to harness the power of technology.

Ngawang returned home empowered.

“I created more gadgets, practiced the work we did during the training such as coding for traffic lights and robotics,” he says. “Pi-Tops give us a platform to think more and be creative.”

From Yangbari in far east Mongar district,  Ngawang lives in Phuentsholing, the country’s commercial hub, with his family. His elder sister works in the capital city Thimphu and his two younger brothers are in school. Ngawang helps his mother at home and takes care of his brothers when she is away in the village and his father, a police personnel at work.

For young people like him who may not have got a chance to learn coding, Pi-Tops are a good platform to start, says Ngawang. “Irrespective of what you studied in school or whether you know much about computers or not, Pi-Tops give us an opportunity to learn, to imagine, be creative and make things happen.”

A youth works on his tools infront of a computer
UNICEF Bhutan/2020/SPelden

The 21-year-old is happy to be among the first to use Pi-Tops and eager to use the new versions, which will allow him to create more projects.

Before he was introduced to Pi-Tops, he says he was planning to find work at some factories. “But now, I want to be the focal point for Pi-Tops here.”

Ngawang today conducts Training of Trainers training on coding and 3D design printing in Thimphu, Punakha, Paro with FabLab. He has to date trained 184 youth on coding and programming using Pi-Top. He is currently undergoing a web design training.

Although he doesn’t have a degree on software development, he doesn’t give up on his dream to become a freelance software developer and wants to become an inspiration to out of school youth and show that here is still hope beyond school, which he found through the Integrated Youth Friendly Service Center.

With Pi-Tops still new to the youth, Ngawang says he wants to show them the power of these modular laptops and technology. “Youth here are still unaware of what a Pi-Top is capable of,” he says. “They assume that it is hardware and complex.”

But he is determined to debunk these myths. The youth centre plans to train about 150 youth on using Pi-Tops with practical sessions and also take up projects.

“Youth here are creative and innovative. All they need is a platform to tap that creativity,” says Ngawang. “And a Pi-Top is a fantastic platform!”

A youth infront of a presentation

Irrespective of what you studied in school or whether you know much about computers or not, Pi-Tops give us an opportunity to learn, to imagine, be creative and make things happen.

Ngawang Zangphel