Recycled PCs head for African schools


8 Sep 2005

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Computers that have been discarded by businesses in Ireland are making their way to Africa as part of an initiative to provide technology equipment to countries in the developing world.

Camara, a non-profit Irish organisation, is preparing to send its first consignment of PCs to several teacher-training colleges in Ethiopia. The Dublin-based organisation refurbishes computers that are no longer used by Irish businesses and sends them for use in the developing world.

Camara’s founder, Cormac Lynch, is a former investment banker who set up the organisation after investigating how best to use IT to improve basic education in schools in Africa. According to Lynch, between half a million and one million computers will become obsolete in Ireland over the next five years, as many Irish businesses typically refresh their PCs every three to five years.

“We can deliver technology to Africa and we can do it cheaply,” added Lynch, who estimated that it will cost around €50 to deliver each machine, including operating system and application software, from Ireland to a school in Africa.

Typically the operating system installed on the refurbished machines is SuSe or Red Hat Linux and the PCs are also bundled with other Open Source productivity software. “We’re trying to use open source because we think it’s better software generally and it helps keep the cost down,” explained Lynch. “Also, if people in Africa want to localise it to their own use, it’s much easier because it’s open source.”

Camara is staffed by part-time volunteers. It receives unwanted machines from Irish businesses, check and repair them to ensure that they are in working order, remove all existing data from the hard drives and then load the systems with software.

The organisation currently has 10 volunteers. “There’s a lot of goodwill out there, particularly in the technology sector and we’re hoping to tap into that,” Lynch told siliconrepublic.com. “We’re looking for people who are familiar with programming, not just refurbishing computers. We’d also like to send volunteers to Africa with the computers to train people to install and maintain them.”

Camara works with several organisations in Africa and supports the One Million Computers for African Schools campaign started by SchoolNet Africa (www.schoolnetafrica.net) . “We only send computers to destinations that we know are going to be able to use and maintain them,” said Lynch. “There is no point simply dumping unwanted computers in Africa.”

Camara makes sure the computers will keep working for another three or four years and is careful about the specification of PC that it accepts. “We have a minimum specification of a Pentium II machine running at 233MHz with 128MB of Ram and a 6GB hard drive,” Lynch said.

Camara claimed it has the potential to supply 10,000 computers a year to Africa although the final figure will depend on demand from schools and other educational establishments.

By Gordon Smith