Old computers to help children from the front line: how an ATO veteran creates new opportunities
Hundreds of children in online learning on the front lines cannot receive a full education. Why? The reason is simple: they don't have computers or even smartphones. We explain how a volunteer from Svitlodarsk helps to solve the situation, and how each of us can help.
For children from frontline areas, the lack of personal computers during distance learning has become an urgent problem. The solution was found in Svitlodarsk, Donetsk region. To facilitate access to online learning, former ATO member Andrii Polukhin began assembling and repairing old laptops for children living near the war.
What is the problem?
Because of the danger posed by the proximity of hostilities, the frontline territories in eastern Ukraine are still in some isolation. Few people come here with educational, intellectual, cultural projects, and the locals themselves try not to be outside their settlements. The only thing left for children from the "yellow zone" of quarantine is to develop and discover the world through the Internet. However, not everyone has a personal laptop or a modern smartphone. The lack of computers was particularly acute with the onset of the pandemic. Distance learning introduced in Ukrainian schools in connection with the coronavirus has become a real test for children from the demarcation zone.
What is the solution?
Many parents of children in frontline areas don't have enough income to meet their needs for online education. There are simply no new businesses and not enough jobs. That's why children often take their parents' phones, listen to lessons in this way, and bring homework to school. The opportunity to fully learn online for many children from frontline towns and villages has emerged through the Open Online for Students public initiative.
The Open Online for Students project is a joint development of Andrii Polukhin, a volunteer from Svitlodarsk, and the Voices of Children Charitable Foundation. Since April last year, a young man has been repairing unneeded, old laptops and handing them over to children.
How does it work?
Andrii Polukhin's workshop isn't an ordinary service center at home. A self-taught computer master who repairs gadgets for children from the East for free knows about the horrors of war. Andri, a native of Kyiv, was an active participant in the Revolution of Dignity, and with the start of the war, he volunteered for eastern Ukraine as an assistant chaplain. His first rotation was to the new terminal of Donetsk airport, where he was injured. Then he had 12 more rotations to Shyrokino, Lebedinskyi, Pisky. After that, Andrii didn't want to return to his native Kyiv, and together with his wife, he settled in frontline Svitlodarsk. Today he's one of the managers of the VPN Zone youth space, coordinates the On the Line of Conflict project in the Donetsk region, is the secretary of the Working Group on Public Safety and Social Cohesion in Svitlodarsk community, and manages the Open Online for Students project at the Voices of Children Foundation.
With the beginning of the lockdown, the Polukhin family began to engage in self-development. Andrii tried his hand at programming, and his wife delved into the design. But her laptop broke, and her husband began looking for information on how to fix it, storming YouTube in search of videos about repairing laptops and computers. He later went through all the laptops at home and in the youth center. He gained experience and began to look for benefits from this knowledge.
"I once talked to a teenager from our city about lockdown and distance learning," Andrii recalls. "He said that at that time he practically didn't study because he didn't have a phone or a computer. His parents are addicted to alcohol, work little, and can not provide it, only basic things. I began to think about the conversation and realized that there were few people on the front line, and there could be several dozen such children in Svitlodarsk alone. And how many children along the entire front line?"
Thanks to the Voices of Children Charitable Foundation, the volunteer received a database of children and partners and proposed a project concept for handing over old laptops and computers. This is how the project started.
The first laptop for the project was sent to Andrii Polukhin by an old acquaintance from Kyiv. It was in pretty good condition, so Andrii added RAM, changed the thermal paste, and reinstalled the software. It only took a day. The next day it was handed over to a girl named Olia from a large family in Svitlodarsk. The surprise was so unexpected that the little girl couldn't believe for a long time that the gift was intended for her, the positive emotions just amplified.
Then, thanks to publicity on social media, caring people from all over Ukraine and even from abroad began to send unneeded computers. The record of the project was 30 computers from Germany, which were obtained thanks to the Ukrainian diaspora Bamberg: UA and the priest Bohdan Pushkar. They learned about the project through Facebook and responded.
Did he succeed?
Andrii Polukhin's project has been going on for 10 months, during which he was sent about 50 faulty gadgets, most of which were resuscitated and passed on to children. He now has about two dozen computers at home that need repair and improvement. Andrii buys critical spare parts at his expense but mostly gets them from old laptops. "We're trying to fundraise," says the master, "but so far we have been sent only UAH 1,000 during the project."
Most of all, Andrii likes to give computers to children when they least expect it. And always rejoices in the sincere surprise and joy of every child. "I like to see the faces of children in pleasant shock. It is always inspiring because they don't even dream of such gifts. My dream is to give access to education to all students living near the war," said the volunteer.
He adds that he doesn't consider his project to be purely humanitarian. "Humanitarian aid is easy. You delivered, made photographs, and it's ready," Andrii Polukhin explains his opinion. "'Humanitarian bulimia' is already beginning at the front. But instead of fish, people should be given more fishing rods. The Open Online for Students project is aimed at education and self-development, which will one day give its impetus to a busy person who will work for the benefit of the state."
The volunteer's immediate plans are to organize small courses for teenagers, where they will be taught to work effectively with their equipment, keep it in working order and properly dispose of it. Andrii also has experience working with teenagers who dream of something more than working at a city-building company. Some of them, having received a computer thanks to the project, are already beginning to achieve their dreams. For example, they are studying programming.
How to help the Open Online for Students project
The essence of the project is simple and every Ukrainian can take part in it: you send old laptops to Andrii; he repairs them and gives them to schoolchildren in frontline cities where there is no access to distance learning and Internet knowledge in general. And there are many, many of them. The Voices of Children Foundation is constantly updating the lists of children who need such help, and all information is carefully checked.
"Many people think," the foundation admits, "that children who receive computers will start playing various games all day long. But it's impossible because we pass on the simplest machines. They are only suitable for simple tasks."
You don't have an old laptop?
- By writing to Andrii Polukhin in private messages on Facebook, you can help buy spare parts for repairs and accessories. Now, for example, there is a great need for computer mice and webcams; there is always a lack of RAM, hard drives, newer processors, and laptop chargers.
- You can purchase licensed basic software (Windows 10, Microsoft Office).
- Distribute the post about the project on social media.
- You can also donate to the fund.
- The project will also be grateful for useful contacts for the project. These can be contacts of companies that can provide written-off gadgets, or accept non-repairable gadgets as a reward for disposal.
But don't send too old laptops. The minimum requirement is 4 GB of RAM and a dual-core processor. Or the ability to install them. This is the minimum for comfortable work with documents and video communication.
Even more useful solutions!
A year ago, the British company Uswith.com conducted a study and found out several interesting facts:
- One in seven people has a 10-year-old gadget at home, and about a million people still keep old faxes at home. Another 4 million homes are dusting off video players.
- About 19% of respondents don't get rid of old equipment because they fear for their personal data preservation. One in six (17%) keeps things for sentimental reasons.
- On average, there are 7 unused gadgets in each household.
- Today, 22 million old smartphones and laptops remain in British homes, with a current value of more than 1 billion pounds.
- A fifth of respondents (21%) don't know where to take old equipment.
Approximately the same situation can be seen in Ukraine. You may also have at least one device you no longer need at home. Now you know that an old computer or laptop can not only be pushed even deeper into the mezzanine, but you can also give it a new full life, sending it to Andrii Polukhin in Svitlodarsk. Thanks to you and the work of the master, children living in areas close to hostilities will receive a reliable electronic friend for learning and development.