Computer refurbishing club: reducing waste, helping students around the world
“We don’t really think about it a lot, but throwing away computers and phones is a really big problem for the environment,” says junior Elmer Moya Alfaro, a member of Eastside’s computer refurbishing club. Elmer and other club members are working to reduce electronic waste, but that’s not all – they’re also providing computers to classrooms in developing countries.
Eastside’s club falls under the umbrella of a larger organization, the World Computer Exchange, which has provided five million youth in 53 countries with access to refurbished computers. Clubs at schools like Eastside are helping them reach even more young people.
Computer science teacher Anil Vempati has been volunteering with the World Computer Exchange for years, and he started Eastside’s refurbishing club shortly before the pandemic began – though it really took off during the 2021-22 academic year, when he was able to gather with students in person again. “It’s encouraging to see that people care,” Anil says, reflecting on his students’ dedication to the club.
Sophomore Devin Herrera says that it helps to know the computers he works on are “going to a good cause” – but he is also motivated by his own desire to learn and develop new skills. And although he still has to do some research when working on new types of computers, he’s found that, “Computers are in a way like Legos, just with wires…there’s a general sense of what can go where.”
Getting each computer to function properly is just the first part of their process. “When we refurbish the computers, we don’t just make sure they’re in working order, we also put educational software on them,” says Anil. He goes on to explain that since many of the schools they ship computers to don’t have reliable internet access, they install programs that can be run offline, so students can continue learning even when they can’t connect to the web.
Elmer shares that he’s enjoyed seeing photos Anil has shown him of students who now have access to computers and digital resources thanks to the World Computer Exchange, and he’s excited to hopefully learn more about the impacts of their work in the future. In the meantime, he’s having fun working with computers, and thinking more about a possible career in computer science or software engineering. “I would encourage my peers to get involved,” he says. “You can learn a lot.”