Meet the Irishman whose charity fixes your broken laptop and sends it to a school in Africa
Now here’s a seriously interesting cause…
If you were lucky enough to get a brand new laptop or tablet PC for Christmas then you might have an old unwanted computer lying idle. So what do you do with it?
You can’t (well, you’re not supposed to) throw it in the bin for Dublin City Council to worry about, as the batteries are considered hazardous waste.
You could just leave it sitting under your bed and hope that one day it will return to the ashes it was once made from, or, alternatively you could help out disadvantaged children by giving your old unneeded laptop or tablet to Camara Education.
Camara takes old, unwanted PCs and wipes them clean - to US Dept of Defence standards, FYI – refurbishes them and loads them with educational software to be used by students elsewhere in the world.
JOE recently had a chat with Camara’s CEO John Fitzsimons to find out more about this very interesting cause.
JOE: What were the reasons for setting up Camara in the first place?
John Fitzsimons: Camara was founded by successful businessman Cormac Lynch who wanted to give back to people in need. In 2005 he travelled to Ethiopia and was moved by what he saw.
His belief was that education was the most important tool in poverty eradication, so he visited several schools and asked them what they needed to improve the education on offer.
Interestingly they all said computers, so Cormac made a commitment to send some when he got back to Ireland. A few months later, 200 very battered computers were shipped.
Nearly ten years on we have shipped over 60,000 very good quality computers. Last year alone we installed 11,591 computers in schools and crucially trained 4,299 teachers to empower them to integrate technology into education.
Ironically, for the first time last year, and on the 30th anniversary of the famine, Camara Ethiopia was our most successful hub with over 4,000 PCs installed which will go onto impact over 100,000 students.
JOE: Can you take us through the process? Our laptop isn’t working, but we want to help. What do we do next?
John Fitzsimons: The key thing is getting the device to us. We have facilities in Chapelizod, Belfast, London and San Jose. If you have more than ten computers we can send DHL out to collect them.
We will then wipe the data and issue you a certificate of data erasure. After which we refurbish the device, load educational content and ship them to our hubs who then distribute them to schools.
We are always short of silly things like mice, power cables and always monitors. So give us what you have even if you think it may not be of use. Every device reused goes on to impact 21 children.
JOE: Does Camara receive any Government funding?
John Fitzsimons: Yes we receive some from Irish Aid. Last year we started a very significant project with three commercial companies to deliver a comprehensive solution to 200 rural Kenyan schools with over £1m provided by the UK government.
JOE: It must be satisfying to see a child’s face light up when you give them a piece of technology they previously wouldn’t have access to. Do you have any particularly fond memories from the past few years?
John Fitzsimons: I am incredibly fortunate to get to travel to the countries very regularly. Every time I visit a few schools and every time it just bowls me over. Meeting the students who have so much potential and seeing their enthusiasm when they get access to computers for the first time is always breathtaking.
One student in a Zambian school summed it all up when I asked her why was she so happy to get access to computers, she said, "computers are important because they make the world small".
We also received a lovely warm video message from the students of St. Anthony’s School for the Deaf in Kenya.
The school is located in Webuye, a rural community in Western Kenya near the Ugandan border. There are 336 deaf children enrolled in the school, ranging from nursery level to class eight, who are supported by a staff of 27 teachers.
JOE: How can Irish people help the Camara cause?
John Fitzsimons: The easiest way is to give us your used computers. The ones sitting around at home and talk to your IT Manager in work and ask them what are they doing with those. Plus, spread the word about Camara – follow us on Twitter and Facebook!
We also need funding to do what we do and for as little as €4,000 a school can get a Camara eLearning Centre.
JOE: What do you aim to achieve in 2015, both personally and with Camara?
John Fitzsimons: In 2015 we want to continue to deliver on our strategy, which is Prove, Improve and Scale.
Prove the impact we are having on education, improve the quality and depth of the offerings to schools and scale – continue to grow as we have to date. Last year was our best year yet, we doubled our income, but we are confident we can exceed even those heights this year.
Personally, I really want to get the word out about Camara. Too many people have said to us this is the best-kept secret!
JOE: Thanks for your time John.
John Fitzsimons: Thanks guys.
For more information on the great work that Camara Education does both in Ireland and abroad click the links below...