Free Geek ‘Spanish Build’ program brings computers to the barrios
El Hispanic News
Portland, OR —A look at the job opportunities available today will show you the importance of computer know-how. Jobs from architect to zoologist require computer skills. You can’t do any serious repair on a car without a computer. Grocery clerks and waitresses now rely on computers to handle dozens of chores. Today’s world relies on computer literate workers — computer geeks.
Too many people are left behind — those who did not learn computer science in high school, those who cannot afford to buy a computer, and those who cannot read an English-language computer manual.
That’s the case in most of the country. Fortunately, in Portland several programs offer almost everyone the opportunity to bring their computer skills into the 21st century.
The organization behind this has a most unusual name: Free Geek. And Free Geek is indeed a very unusual organization.
Ten years ago a group of environmentally-conscious people complained about the number of computers being thrown into trash dumps. These abandoned computers contained an assortment of hazardous materials. The group discussed the problem and came up with a plan to change things.
Today the Free Geek organization accepts computers from people who have bought newer and flashier models. Staffers take computers that don’t work and break them down to their basic parts. They keep what is useful and sell the aluminum, copper, steel, plastic, and other materials to reliable companies.
The magic that makes this all possible comes from the dozens of computer savvy volunteers and the beginners who want to learn about computers.
Production staff members Elizabeth Swager and Renée Harger explain the process.
“The best thing we can do for the planet is re-use and recycle,” Harger says. “It’s not only good for the planet, but good for people’s pocketbooks.”
Since starting in Portland, 10 other Free Geek operations have opened in the United States as well as Canadian workshops in Vancouver and Toronto.
Programs for success
Free Geek started with two programs — the Adoption Program and the Build Program. Both programs allow volunteers to work and receive a free computer.
A newly developed third program — Spanish Build — extends the benefits to Spanish speakers who don’t yet feel comfortable with the English language.
The basic key is Free Geek’s Adoption Program — consisting six four-hour sessions. “When folks volunteer, [and] they work for 24 hours,” Harger explains, “[they] receive a free computer.”
The Adoption Program volunteers must know enough about computers to start work immediately.
As a side benefit, Harger says, if their rebuilt computer has problems, they can bring it back for free repairs or receive a replacement.
Volunteers who need a computer education can enroll in the Build Program. This program requires a commitment of 60 to 80 hours. Swager says this program has three steps — hardware identification, system evaluation, and building instruction.
In the first step, volunteers become familiar with memory cards, mother boards, and other essential components.
In the second step, they learn to judge which parts are re-usable and which will be recycled.
The third step culminates in putting all the pieces together. “After they build five computers for Free Geek,” Swager says, “the sixth one is theirs.”
Swager and Harger teamed up to create the Spanish Build Program that they now coordinate.
Swager estimates that Free Geek now has eight or 10 Spanish translators, but says they need more — “As many as want to participate.” Free Geek will provide their technical training.
“We have a large group of Spanish-speaking volunteers,” Swager says, noting that previously, “They could only participate if they brought a translator.”
“Now we have Spanish-speaking volunteers acting as bilingual instructors,” she points out.
Those who simply wish to buy a Free Geek refurbished computer have their choice of PC, Apple, or Linux models.
People considering learning about computers and building their own can take tours of the Free Geek workshop at 1731 SE 10th Ave. in Portland. English-language tours start every Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Spanish-language tours are at 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Or visit Free Geek’s website at www.freegeek.org for more information.
Persons who have replaced their old computers may donate them, as well as monitors, cords, or other computer gear.
Swager reports that Free Geek workshops have received 139,263 computers. To date, Free Geek workshops have given more than 8,000 refurbished computer systems to volunteers, schools, and non-profit organizations.
And, fittingly, since environmentalists created this program, their information sheet notes, “Free Geek has diverted over 4,000 tons of electronic waste from our landfills, preventing toxins from leaching into our soil and water.”
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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