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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
A new home for old PCs
Jeff Tomlinson, of the UK charity Techknowledgy, collects unwanted computers, wipes the data from the hard drives and takes the machines to Ghana to help build computer literacy.

There's a tremendous need for computers in Ghana. Every job is advertised as requiring computer literacy but it's not taught in the schools.

School children in Pamdu, Ghana
"Most schools don't have any computers at all"
Most schools don't have any computers at all. Some still have mechanical typewriters and manual telephone exchanges.

So any child requiring computer literacy has to go to after-school classes which are very expensive. That's really unfair because then only the rich kids get computer skills.

What my charity aims to do is equip schools with computers at zero cost. Then all we do is add on the cost of the maintenance and training.

Our classes cost just 1.50 a term for each student. That's about 15,000 Ghanaian cedis, which buys two beers - a lot less than any other organisation charges.

Not just any old junk

One of the main problems with donated computers is maintenance.

The polluter will pay in Europe
From 2005 manufacturers will pay for collection and disposal of old electrical goods
70%+ of materials must be recycled
Maybe a school is lucky enough to get 20 computers. But six months down they're lucky if half that number is still working. One school called us to ask for help setting up some computers they received from America. To start with the US is on a different voltage, so they needed step-down transformers.

And a lot of the computers were the old floppy drive machines - practically museum pieces - so no use to them at all. For the cost of the step-down transformers, I could have given them more up-to-date machines.

UK children at a computer
E-mail pals: He also links UK and Ghanaian schools
There's a lot of misguided giving - not just computers, but fridges, televisions... you name it, they're dumped with it.

The Ghanaian government is trying to stop people sending junk to the country. It's all very well giving away stuff you can't use but it has to be stuff someone else can use.

Rich rewards

Because I suffer from tinnitus, I had to take early retirement from my job as an IT manager in local government - stress really triggers off the tinnitus.

I get more job satisfaction doing this than from any other job I've done

But I hate sitting around doing nothing, so a Ghanaian friend suggested that as I was very good with computers, I could put something together for his home country. We've since parted company, as he's a business man and I'm more interested in doing something to help.

I've been doing this for about five years and I go out to Ghana three times a year with hundreds of computers in tow.

Jeff being given a video of opening ceremony
"I get so much thanks for doing this"
Unlike most recyclers I offer an end-to-end service - I collect the computers, I clean them up, I take them out and I install them.

People ask me why I do it. I get much more job satisfaction from doing this than from any other job I've done because of the appreciation I get.

When a school opens their computer class, they gather around the local dignities, the local chiefs, the parents and the students and have a day of speeches, dancing and singing.

I get so much thanks for doing this; just one opening ceremony is enough to keep me happy for a year.

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See also:

10 Apr 02 | Business
02 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
21 Nov 01 | UK
25 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
13 Jul 01 | UK
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