Digital Divide Twitterthon Yields 7000 PCs For Africa

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But Computer Aid wants to source another 3000 machines over the next month

IT charity Computer Aid says that the UK’s first Twitterthon has resulted in 7000 PCs being donated to schools and hospitals in the developing world thanks to organisations such as Sainsbury’s and Islington College.

Computer Aid, which takes old but still functioning PCs from UK businesses and refurbishes them for use in countries such as Kenya, held the Twitterthon on Tuesday. The event consisted of a four hour call for fans of the charity’s Twitter identity Computer_Aid to highlight the work of the organisation on the micro-blogging site and also to pledge PCs for donation.

According to Computer Aid, UK retailer Sainsbury’s pledged to donate up to 5000 machines, while City and Islington College plans to donate several hundred more PCs and laptops to before the end of this year.

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“The support from Twitter users was fantastic and generated widespread awareness of our cause and our need for more IT equipment,” said Computer Aid founder and chief executive Tony Roberts. “The progress we have made in the last ten years has made a significant impact in helping to bridge the global digital divide. However, when you consider that in sub-Saharan Africa alone there are still only five or less PCs per 1,000 people, it’s evident there is so much more we can do to assist other countries in enriching education, and improving health and medical care.”

Roberts added that although the charity is pleased with the success of the Twitterthon – it has a target to hit 10,000 donated PCs over the next four weeks. “We hope the Twitterthon has helped us to capture the public’s imagination and that other supporters will come forward to donate the 3,000 additional PCs that we need to meet our target,” he said.

Laptops are particularly important in countries such as Kenya where they are used by blind students and teachers to provide portable access to learning materials – most of which are not available in braille due to costs involved of printing textbooks and other materials. Computer Aid is working with organistions such as the Kenyan Union of the Blind to develop open source screen-reading and audio software to enable blind students to access computer-based information.

Computer Aid says it has refurbished more than 130,000 PCs and laptops, all of which are being used to support e-learning, e-health, e-inclusion and e-agriculture projects in countries such as Kenya, Madagascar and Zambia.

Although some critics have raised concerns about sending PC equipment to developing countries claiming it could lead to increased dumping of so-called e-waste in areas not equipped to deal with it safely – Computer Aid says it only ships refurbished machines and is firmly against sending broken equipment abroad. “Anyone shipping unprocessed WEEE [Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment] should be jailed,” said Roberts.