Opinions & Features Workshop (Oct 26th)

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The Graduate College is collecting used devices for refugees and new immigrants

By Jen Sidorova, December 13 2020 —

Tech Drive is the new initiative organized by the Service Committee of the Graduate College in collaboration with the Calgary Immigrant Society. The goal of this project is to collect used electronic devices such as phones, tablets and computers. The Gauntlet interviewed Isabel Fandino, the initiator of the Tech Drive project. Fandino is an MA student at the University of Calgary.

The idea of Tech Drive came to Fandino’s mind after she interviewed refugee families for her research project. Many families were in need of computers. Fandino and her supervisor decided to post an ad on the Immigrant and Refugee Support society group on Facebook, looking for anyone who had a used laptop to donate to a family that really needed one. Fandino was immediately contacted by the admins of the Facebook group who told her that there was a long waiting list within the group for laptops and technology. Fandino realized a real need existed, one she hopes to help fill.

There was a chance to develop this idea further when at a monthly meeting, the chair of the College’s Service Committee, Samiha Mohsen, asked everyone to bring something to the table that they felt passionate about. Besides refugees and new immigrants, the College Service Committee members wanted to support Indigenous communities and homeless people. Fandino suggested the Tech Drive project. Because of her experience as an international student, Fandino felt like supporting refugees was really close to her heart as she’d also experienced being new in the country.

“Refugees experience so many barriers and they are so motivated,” said Fandino. “They went through a lot of tough situations in their home countries and [are] thankful to be in Canada. Refugees also have a huge barrier to accessing higher education.”

Fandino thought it would be a good idea to gather tech devices for refugees and new immigrants. Also, given the pandemic, the project was a right fit as it didn’t require everyone to be in the same room. According to Fandino, it is very easy to clean electronics with wipes, so the committee was able to organize contactless pick up cleaning.

Plenty of support came her way from the Grad College, noted Fandino.

The project requires a lot of coordination, which can be challenging. Donors have a couple of options. They can either ask volunteers to pick the items up — there’s a few volunteers with card who can go this — or they can drop the items on campus themselves. The next stage is cleaning. Fandino has plenty of supplies and items are thoroughly cleaned before heading to their new homes. Then, laptops have to be re-set back to factory settings, which is not always possible to do quickly, depending on the age and condition of the device.

Another issue is that people usually keep their old electronics in basements, closets and drawers — it takes them time to find them. However, Fandino notes that people have been happily take the time to unearth their electronics.

“People have been awesome,” she said. “I really appreciate that people even email me and be like, ‘Hey, I know I have a laptop somewhere.’” 

The College’s goal is to help more than 30 families by Dec. 31. Right now, they are almost at the halfway mark. The College has already donated nine laptops and two phones. Fandino and other volunteers are still working at cleaning and re-setting the others.

Fandino believes that the Tech Drive will be an ongoing project where they will have assigned people will be willing to pick up electronics throughout the year and then collect them and keep delivering them to the Calgary Immigrant Society. There is always a need for computers among refugee and new immigrant families and the pandemic specifically made it tougher for these families to survive without having access to electronics.

The Tech Drive for Calgary immigrants is still ongoing. The drive is looking for used devices such as phones, tablets, computers and many other electronics. For any questions or more information, contact Isabel Fandino at isabel.fandino@ucalgary.ca by the end of December 2020.


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