Laptops for Africa!

This blog is a little different to my usual updates and hopefully will be the first of several 'Guest' pieces from individuals and organisations that are linked in someway to AidCamps and its partner NGOs.

This piece, written by a wonderful chap called Graham (who supplies me with a cup of tea and an unbelievably 'sticky' bun every time I call by to collect laptops from him) focuses on how he identified a real need when he was on an AidCamp project with SHUMAS in Cameroon, and how he decided to do something about it on his return to the UK!

Laptops for Africa...........

On a visit to SHUMAS, AidCamp's partner in Cameroon, way back in 2007, I was struck by the challenges that staff were facing using their ageing and limited IT infrastructure.

They had a few old desktop machines running very slowly and if the power went down, as it regularly did, current work was often lost or corrupted and so most staff relied on USB flash drives to save work. Using flash drives may have the advantage of portability but the disadvantages of security, particularly potential virus infection if used in other unprotected equipment are very real.

Generally, IT equipment had to be shared amongst several staff who had to queue up in order to do their work.
 
On returning home, I set about asking friends and relatives if they still had laptops they no longer used?

Would they like to donate their unwanted kit to Africa? 

This way I got one or two machines and it was interesting to find out why they were no longer in use.  Reasons were varied: 'running too slow', 'doesn't work', 'hot soup spilt on keyboard', 'got a better, faster machine',  etc., etc..

Clearly, the reason why the machines were no longer in use were genuine and there was certainly no advantage in just sending them out as they were...

Nearly fifty percent of the donated machines really are 'beyond use' for any or all of the reasons outlined above!  However, sometimes parts can be salvaged for use later. Stuff really 'beyond-use' is sent to a local specialist computer recycling plant.

Of the remainder, any original data is erased from the hard drives using special software and then 'Open Source Software' is loaded to give the machines a new lease of life.



Readers may recall that Open Source Software or 'FOSS', is free, as in 'free beer'. It is supported worldwide by millions of technical volunteers who are dedicated to producing software which anyone can use, improve or change for the benefit of the whole community.

The FOSS software suite chosen for donated laptops is a Linux distribution called UBUNTU. It comes with a full office suite and lots of other software is included or available for separate download. It is completely compatible with proprietary software, such as Apple or Microsoft. It can revitalise older hardware and is generally safe from virus infection. And did I mention ... it's free! 

From these beginnings we started to write articles for our nearby village magazines, talk to the local Rotary Club and other sources, and we now get a small stream of machines to refurbish which go out to SHUMAS with visiting volunteers.

Since 2007 SHUMAS' projects and the staff needed to run them have grown considerably, stretching well beyond their Bamenda base to other provinces.

So many more laptops are needed. If you have machines not in use, gathering dust or about to be dumped, please consider donating them to SHUMAS. We will arrange to completely erase all data if necessary, clean, refurbish and give new life to a machine which will be much welcomed by SHUMAS staff.  

Best wishes

Graham

One quick note - If you do wish to make a donation of an old laptop to Graham then please contact info@aidcamps.org and I'd be happy to put you in touch with him. Given that he's based in the UK (South East) then I suspect that practically we'd only be looking for donations within the mainland UK or from people who are willing to meet up somewhere central to pass over their old machine. As ever, AidCamps will do whatever it can to help!

(To learn more about Open source, just google 'Linux' or 'Ubuntu'!)

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