by Barbie Keiser, Past KIIE Convener (Published September 1, 2012)
Program: International Information Exchange (IIE) Breakfast
Date: Tuesday, July 17
Speaker: Jack O’Donnell, Chicago Coordinator for World Computer Exchange (WCE)
Presenters: SLA’s IT and ERM Divisions
A small group gathered in Chicago for the International Information Exchange Caucus breakfast on Wednesday, July 18. The featured speaker was Jack O’Donnell, Chicago Coordinator for World Computer Exchange (WCE). World Computer Exchange’s mission is “To reduce the digital divide for youth in developing countries; to use our global network of partnerships to enhance communities in these countries; and to promote the reuse of electronic equipment and its ultimate disposal in an environmentally responsible manner”. Jack’s presentation described:
- How WCE operates with partners, sponsors, and strategic allies, of which SLA is one
- The work of the Chicago Chapter, as an example of WCE’s 20 chapters throughout the United States and Canada
- The eWaste project for Latin America to which SLA members contributed
- The Content Project
- eCorps Volunteers
- Computers-for-Girls Project
To date, WCE has provided 31,009 computers, placing them in 2,839 schools and youth centers in 43 developing countries, connecting over 3.5 million youth to information resources via the Internet and World Wide Web. This grassroots effort involves 250 volunteer Development Officers who help with logistics, planning, fund raising, and tech support for computer shipments; teams of eCorps tech and teacher training professional volunteers; and 500 chapter volunteers in 20 cities who collect, upgrade, and prepare computers for shipment abroad.
The organization helps local groups in developing nations collaborate and work toward a common goal of bringing computers to local schools and youth centers, primarily in rural areas. These partner organizations are responsible for raising a portion of the funding required (shipping costs). (The idea behind this is to make these partners stronger for their next community improvement project.)
Donated computers are refurbished to support their education purposes
Donated computers are tested, inventoried, and tagged. (WCE accepts computer donations of Pentium 4 and above; Macs are less supported in these destinations.) Hard drives are wiped clean and Linux operating system, software, and content installed. Twenty PCs are placed on pallets, along with tested monitors, keyboards, mice, printers, LAN cables, and parts; ten pallets are shipped to a single country, for a total of 200 computers per container. Representatives from international or local Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs) walk the computers through customs and distribute them to their final destinations around the country; sometimes the US Embassy or Peace Corps Director does this for WCE.
WCE relies on Linux (Ubuntu) because of cost, language compatibility, virus solutions, stability, Firefox and Libre Office, ease of use, and compatibility with older PCs. Once the computers arrive at their destination, they must be installed. WCE eCorps volunteers make trips to these nations, train local people how to troubleshoot, network, and use the Internet for educational purposes.
How WCE supports education: The Content Project
WCE wants their computers to be useful in areas where connectivity (to the Internet) is limited. To accomplish this, the organization relies on Edubuntu and loads relevant content (depending upon the ultimate location of installation) on computer hard drives. (The organization is considering a shift to sending a server with each shipment.) Edubuntu consists of 34 open source tools and games for K-12. Open source content that WCE frequently loads on hard drives, some of which was identified through the help of SLA members, can be found at: http://www.contentarchives.org/content_archives_v4/EN/index.html. Similar projects are underway in Spanish, French, and Arabic, so if you know of any similar resources in these languages that should be tapped, please share them with Jack.
Gender gaps in terms of education exist throughout the world. WCE has targeted 13 countries for its Computers-for-Girls Project—Cameroon, Ghana, Honduras, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe—“to connect 91,000 girls by 2015.” In each country, WCE is working with five partner organizations to build capacity, providing 200 refurbished computers to connect 7000 girls, train 30 technology teachers in two-day iEarn workshops, and send six volunteer eCorps tech professionals to spend two weeks with these teachers and partners.
SLA has worked with WCE in the past, but there are ways in which our skills complement the work of this organization. First, in terms of structure: SLA has chapters in 17 of the cities with WCE chapters, so joint meetings or projects are a distinct possibility for local program planners. Individuals (or international chapters) could help to identify and vet suitable partners for WCE in developing nations. An SLA member might even wish to volunteer as a Development Officer for a specific nation. Then there is always the opportunity to take a working vacation and join an eCorps trip, applying information skills to benefit a community. Finally, SLA Divisions might work to identify content to complement the growing set of resources loaded on computers shipped abroad.
The breakfast was generously sponsored by EMIS. You may know them as ISI Emerging Markets, a Euromoney Institutional Investor company, delivering hard-to-get information on more than 80 emerging markets. For more information about Jack and WCE’s Chicago Chapter, go to http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=8329190.