BEIRUT: When a university computer is no longer useful, where does it go? Until recently, the answer was to the scrap yard or the landfill. But now an initiative by the American University of Beirut (AUB) is giving old computers a new lease of life by donating them to underprivileged communities.
AUB’s Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS), in partnership with the department of Computer and Networking Services (CNS), decided to launch the “recycling” project after realizing that although a number of AUB computers were too outdated for university purposes, they could still satisfy the needs of other users, says Rim Kadi, CNS assistant director for Customer Relations and User Support. It’s the first initiative of its kind by an educational institution in Lebanon.
The refurbishing is carried out by student volunteers who are trained to fix defects, wipe out all AUB data and test for operation. They also install software through Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher, provided by Microsoft for a nominal fee for refurbished computers destined for community use, says CCECS director Mounir Mabsout. The refurbished computers are then donated to recipients who can’t afford new equipment. “The computers get distributed according to need,” says Kadi.
“While the project consists at this point of refurbishing AUB computers only, we plan soon to offer to refurbish computers of institutions outside AUB,” Mabsout says. “This will add value to our initiative, and will increase our donations by a large extent to reach a more vast pool of needy recipients.”
Computer refurbishment is not common in Lebanon, though it is offered by firms like Dell, HP, Apple and Microsoft in several countries across the world. The UN Earth Summit in 2002 recommended the refurbishing and reuse of computers, saying it extended the life of a working computer to five or six years. “Reuse gives your old computer a second life so it can create opportunity for someone else,” the Summit declaration reads.
Volunteer Bassem Dghaidy, 20, says the project benefits both students and recipients. “Everybody needs a computer these days, so it’s nice to see community service being given in different ways.” Refurbishing the computers has also helped him hone his skills: “It’s like a lab course but without being in a lab or being graded for it.”
Since the project’s inception, around 40 refurbished computers have been handed over, Dghaidy says. One recipient of computers is the Taibeh Municipality in southern Lebanon, which just last week received 10 computers. They have been “put in the public library to be used by locals, especially young people, says Tarek Osseiran, a UN Habitat official who helped procure the donation. Taibeh’s public library was destroyed by an Israeli air strike during the summer 2006 war. Although it has since been rebuilt, the municipality “had trouble finding financial resources to buy computers,” Osseiran says.
In Marwaheen Municipality, also in south Lebanon, the Lebanese Evangelical Institute for Social Work and Development’s Home of Hope orphanage and the Centre D’Education Therapeutique pour Enfants have also benefitted from refurbished AUB computers.
Reusing old computers is also environmentally friendly. Electronic waste is one of the most important and yet overlooked disposal issues of the 21st century. In the absence of national legislation to govern the disposal of things like television sets, computers and telephones, the role of CCECS and CNS becomes all the more important. Rather than ending up at one of Lebanon’s notorious landfills or at a scrap yards, where the computer’s toxic substances are unlikely to be properly disposed of, they are safely refurbished, giving recipients a financially and environmentally sound machine. “Sustainability is in the back of our minds,” Kadi says.