Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Computers 4 Africa

The other day, a very good friend of mine sent me quite a cryptic text message

"I have potentially very good news, gives us a call when you have 5 mins."

Calling her back it transpired that she has a good friend who works at the charity Computers 4 Africa and they might be interested in giving me a laptop to take with me to the refugee camps to donate to them!

Too good an opportunity to double up on good doing, I immediately sent her a long email about the marathon and the plight of the Saharawi people and their situation in the refugee camps.

I was actually quite pleased with the email (and they do seem to get better and better the more I write) and it certainly seemed to work because the next day I was invited to come down one evening and meet the team and maybe arrange for me to receive a laptop to take with me to Algeria!

Thinking that that they were a quite a small charity (but that I might have heard of them before) I was not prepared for he scale of the operation I found when I went down on Friday evening last week.

A massive warehouse filled with computers, laptops, monitors, enormous boxes of mice and row upon row of computers being tested, cleaned, data-wiped (to military spec I was assured) and prepared to be packed into containers and sent to various locations across Africa.

The Computers 4 Africa warehouse is stuffed full of computers waiting to be processed.
Computers waiting to be processed

Holy smoke! These guys have probably got a thousand second hand computers in here! Being guided around the warehouse by Sharon, who is marketing manager, I was intrigued to be told that a single computer will be used by upwards of 24 children each year and she told me several stories of refreshes they'd done at various sites to see computers that they'd dropped there 10 years previously! That's at least 240 kids who have had a chance to learn how to use a computer.

It's very easy to et carried away with how much good each computer does and how many more computers the UK must throw away each year through anything including personal home computer replacements to large corporate refreshes. 

Where do all those machines go!?

Computers 4 Africa run a number of "drop sites" around the UK where for a couple of days every now and then, they get the use of a big warehouse and local people and organisations are encouraged to bring old (although not so old they can't run Windows XP), working computers. 

They also do free collections if you have more than 10 computers to donate and Sharon had a lovely story about a community who organised their collective old computers and Computers 4 Africa were able to come and collect them from them in the village.

Just cleaning and dusting the computers can add 2 years to their lifespan
Just cleaning the donated computers of their accumulated dust can add 2 years to their life span!

I even saw several servers and a lone original iMac in the warehouse being processed for either re-sale in the UK (by selling 1 high spec pc or server, they can often buy up to 20 suitable computers to send out) or to become part of one of their "container classrooms".

Container Classrooms

A genius idea and a fantastic, self contained and fully equipped classroom inside a modified 20ft shipping container.

Looks secure because it is! A complete IT suite and classroom in a single container.

What better way to outfit an entire community than to turn up with a self contained (and also secure, which is very important) classroom, train a teacher to run it and hey presto, you have a community hub, school, library or whatever else you can think of.

In my mind I was thinking "wow, what a great idea! I bet they're expensive to set up though."

I asked Sharon and to my great surprise she said it was £5800 to fully kit one out! That was a third to half what I was thinking it would cost and of course, had the PCs and Server been new, it'd have been closer to the truth.

I don't know how, but I'd really like to have a go at funding one off these out at some point. It'd be a specific, measurable and achievable thing to do. I just need to put a time on it...

Cleaned and restored computers waiting to be packaged for transport

Anyway, at the end of the tour we finished up meeting a few of the guys in the office and had a brief tour of their African map where they have pins on all the locations they've done a major drop. Sharon was keen to point out that they've so far pretty much only taken machinery to the Sub-Sahara countries so my taking a laptop to Tindouf will be a distinct change for them.

Discussing it with Sharon and Morgan (their client relationship manager), we decided that it might work very well if we can donate the laptop to Sandblast to incorporate in one of the mobile sound recording studios we're fundraising to help them put together and take out to the Saharawi.

There's a long way to go before the 25th Feb, although it's only 10 weeks away now. Can't wait to see the conclusion of this part of the adventure! 

If you have any spare or old computers you don't need, drop me an email (benwha@gmail.com) or get in contact with Computers 4 Africa as I know they always need more machines.

UPDATE: Container-Classroom photos

I asked Sharon for a couple of photos of the container-classrooms to give you a better idea of what they look like and here they are:

A complete classroom delivered to communities in Africa from Computers 4 Africa
This one had just been put up.

Donated computers inside a classroom-in-a-container thanks to Computers 4 Africa
And inside are various donated computers all set up and ready to educate

They really are a brilliant idea.

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