April 17, 2008

C.U. Refurbishes Computers for Third World Countries

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Working both locally and internationally, the Cornell Computer Reuse Association, a small group that formed less than two years ago, recently collected, refurbished and distributed over 500 computers. Among the recipients were Ithaca’s Computer All Stars program and other local activities centers. Its next task: sending large shipments of computers to outdated schools in Ghana, Rwanda and Afghanistan.
The CCRA collects computers, monitors, printers and other technologies that have been replaced or broken from all over the Cornell campus. Their main contributor thus far has been from the Cornell University Library system.
“I would say that 50 percent or more of our computers come from the Cornell Library system. We’ve also gotten donations from the Service Center, Campus Life, CIT, the architecture school and individual contributions from students, faculty and staff. We are always looking for new donations because we have been giving computers away at an astounding rate,” said Al Heiman, Senior Consultant Advisor at the CIT and faculty advisor to the CCRA.
Once the computers are collected, members of the association “wipe” the hard drives clean. The computers must be completely free of old data so that no classified information about the University can be used to someone else’s advantage. After the computers have been repaired and updated, the members of the CCRA install new programs and operating systems to the computers, including anti-virus protection and word processors.
“We have to wipe every bit of data from the computers because Cornell can be fussy about leaking information to outside sources. After we have done this, we install free software to the computers like Open Office, which is available online for download,” said PuiYan Chan ’09, president of the CCRA.
The computers are then stored until the group chooses an institution to send their donations to. Once a collective decision has been reached, the group holds a “packing party” where they tackle the mission of boxing, wrapping, taping and moving up to 100 parcels. In the past, the CCRA has had problems receiving funds to cover the expensive shipping bills.
“We have to have fundraisers to raise money in order to ship all the boxes abroad. Sometimes our advisor has had to take money out of his own pocket to cover the costs. The Student Assembly Finance Commission doesn’t provide us with any money because our activity doesn’t benefit the student body,” Chan said.
The CCRA has recently donated computers to Ithaca’s Computer All Stars Program. This program teaches children ages 10 to 19 how to fix computers and install various programs. Once the participants learn enough, they are able to repair computers for families in the greater Ithaca area.
“We have also donated to Computer All-Stars. They take computers and teach kids how to build and put them together, so they can give something back to the community later,” said Matt Valente ’10, secretary of CCRA.
The association has had many difficulties sending computers abroad, but through partnerships with organizations such as Teachers without Borders, the Pan-African Scholars and the State Department all of the shipments have been made possible. So far the CCRA has sent computers abroad to orphanages, schools and universities in South Africa, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Jamaica and Nicaragua.
“Either with the help of international groups, non-profit organizations or through personal connections, it just seems to work out. We are very fortunate,” Heiman said.
Recently, the CCRA ran into problems sending computers to a veterinary school in Kabul, Afghanistan. At first, the Taliban was reluctant to allow any outside educational materials into the country. However, with the help of the State Department, half of the shipment of computers is already on its way. Other problems have included floods in Ghana that made shipping computers nearly impossible.
The CCRA’s main goal is to one day persuade the other Ivy League institutions to create organizations similar to theirs. Hopes are high because this weekend the group is going to attend the Global Poverty Initiative at MIT where members will showcase their mission and accomplishments to other institutions.
“The CCRA can keep collecting and distributing computers indefinitely but no other school is doing what we are. It would be phenomenal if all the Ivy League schools would create organizations like our own. Imagine what could be accomplished — we could have computers sent to every national university in Africa. It would make my career,” Heiman said.
The approximately 20 members of the CCRA, who meet every week, are proud of the fact that they have been able to bring technology that would have otherwise been thrown away to hundreds of deprived individuals.
“We are a pretty small club as of right now and we are still in the growing stages but we have made a lot of great accomplishments and I’m really proud of it. We are not just helping people out, it’s also about sustainability. We are giving away these computers and helping the environment at the same time. We aren’t just trashing these computers. We’re preventing waste build-up by giving them to people who need them. It’s recycling at its finest,” Valente said.