Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Your Junk, Someone’s Gold

I have a simple question to ask: What do you do with your old computers?computers2

The computer I am currently using is the third computer that I can call my own by virtue of paying for it and designating it mine (I’m excluding the computer I bought for my kids). The first one I had was falling to bits, but still fully functional when I gave it away. The second one, I sold within a few months of buying it because it’s specs were not what I needed. I have had the current one for two years and it is beginning to show its age. I have been toying with the idea of replacing it, but I have convinced myself that there is still life in the old dog. In particular, the forthcoming Windows 7 should give it a new lease on life – or I could get really radical, wipe out Windows Vista from it and try to live on Linux. Or If I’m really willing to make a change without spending a cent, I could appropriate my kids’ iMac and give them my laptop instead.

In thinking about replacing this laptop, the thought comes to mind as to what to do with it if I buy a replacement. I could sell it and make some money to offset the cost of the new one. On the other hand there are several agencies and organisations that would be grateful for a good, fully functional computer to help change people’s lives with. I could make a donation to one of them. You could do the same with your old computers.

For instance, I am somewhat associated with an organisation called Freedom Foundation. Freedom Foundation has several programs that include providing rehabilitation for prostitutes, drug addicts and area boys. The organisation also runs schools for the less privileged children in Lagos. Any one of these services would find it useful to have a freely donated computer to keep records or to use for computer training.

Please don’t think of it as an opportunity to offload useless junk. Don’t give away equipment that would be a burden rather than a boon. Give away stuff that still does what it was designed to do. If they are old and slow, you could install Linux in place of Windows which would make them a lot faster as Linux uses computer resources better than Windows. Linux also happens to be free (give me a shout if you need help with this). There are even special versions that come pre-bundled with educational material that would be great in schools. You could also replace, at a small cost, bad keyboards and mice. Change bad power plugs. Make it useable.

Organisations and individuals dispose of computers that no longer meet their needs everyday. We can actually make it a policy to spread the wealth – not just computers, but other serviceable goods that we no longer use. I know that this is Africa and we, as individuals, have an extended family system to which we can pass many things on to (at least we used to). However there are a lot of people out there that don’t have the privileged relatives who can give them stuff. I think we can make a wider impact if we seek out people like this. A great way is to partner with organisations that reach such people and let them have our giveaways. Hey, forget the giveaways, we can actually go out and buy brand new stuff to donate.

However, this blog is focused on information technology and I’m advocating that we give the gift of computing to people and organisations who can use them to elevate their services to the needy. I advocate that we give the gift of computer literacy to young children who may never be able to afford the learning on their own. I advocate we find that struggling young graduate and give him or her a tool that could help their dreams come true.

I’ve talked before about the One Laptop Per Child programme founded by Nicholas Negroponte with the plan to create a child-specific, fully functional laptops built and designed at the cost of $100 dollars. This programme has donated thousands of these computers, called the “XO” to children in many nations (it actually costs about $150). In reading on their forums many people have protested the project claiming that these needy societies need water, food, medicine and shelter more than they need computers. They are right. However, the only way to help raise people above the level of destitution is to educate them and enable them to think and imagine beyond where they are now. Computers really help with accomplishing that. One day, with the help of computers, the person reaching out a hand to beg for bread could be providing a solution that changes their society.

Put your old computer in someone’s hands. You never know what they might become.


Picture © Draiker at www.flickr.com.