Recyling computers for fun and profit


POSTED: Monday, March 16, 2009

Scott Belford is on a mission.

The lanky Savannah, Ga., native recently donated a revamped PC to Lama Wangchuk, who uses it to surf the Web, communicate with his family in India, and operate a Tibetan Buddhist nonprofit organization out of his tiny Kaimuki apartment.

The lama is not the lone beneficiary of Belford's largesse. Belford's organization, the Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation, refurbishes and gives away hundreds of computers a year to schools and homeless shelters, as well as the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation.

He also provides regular workshops at McKinley Community School for Adults and the Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii in Ewa Beach.

Belford says that over the years he's witnessed the dumping of thousands of computers that had outlived their institutional service but were still quite usable.

“;What a waste!”; he says.

But because of his efforts, what was formerly considered junk is now getting a new lease on life and helping people who need it the most. Belford's computers, which he loads with a user-friendly flavor of the Linux system called “;Ubuntu,”; are fast and perfect for surfing the Net, writing documents or sending e-mail. Best of all it's free.

Belford is not alone in his quest to rebuild and distribute formerly junked computers to worthy recipients.

Software designer Curtis J. Kropar, founder of Hawaiian Hope, also specializes in recycled technology, in particular by building computer labs in homeless shelters on Oahu. Kropar says he encourages the homeless to keep the computers once they move out of the shelter.

He says his goal is to help children get their homework done and get their parents familiar enough with technology to find jobs.

Kropar also designs and donates his own software to manage tasks at shelters such as client databases and messaging systems. This allows shelter managers to spend more time with clients.

His software has a data base of more than 4,000 homeless or formerly homeless people, and by the end of the year will be tracking more than 8,000.

Another long time IT philanthropist is Ken Goldstein, founder of Hawaii Computers for Kids, who recycles computer gear and distributes it to grade schools and high schools statewide.

Also, Kevin Hughes, of software startup Sprout, has long contributed used hardware to nonprofits, and encourages others to do the same.

He says he's found it easy to coordinate his tech philanthropy through Tech Hui, a nonprofit composed of IT and life sciences entrepreneurs.

Tech Hui founder Dan Leuck, says his organization acts as a clearing house for used equipment by storing the gear and routing it to nonprofits or to Hawaiian Hope where it can be upgraded and put back into use.

Leuck says there are about 2,400 homeless children in schools around Oahu and getting them access to e-mail is key because that's how they submit homework.