June 2009
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Helping the Needy Get Nerdy

Jun 30th, 2009 | By | Category: Community Board

Everybody needs a computer these days. You need a computer to find a job, and you need a computer to find social assistance supports if you can’t get a job. You need a computer to keep in touch with your friends and relations. If you join a club or a team or a band or a movement, you need a computer. If you’re sick at home or minding the napping pre-schooler, having a computer means you can read the news, find your tunes, check your bank account or find a phone number if your phone book is out of date, all without leaving home or spending another dime.

But computers are expensive, and software is expensive. The Internet does not come free. And the computer you have now is hopelessly obsolete. How to get a new computer?

Wait a minute! There are dozens, maybe hundreds or thousands, of perfectly good computers being thrown out every day in this town. They may no longer meet the needs of high-end business users, but they are still plenty good enough for new users, and especially for low income people. But most of these computers will end up in landfill, here or in China, or trucked via smelly fossil-fuel-burning vehicles to recycling plants. They constitute a serious waste and pollution problem.

Isn’t there a way to solve both these problems at the same time?

CyberEquality is the working title for a project that hopes to bring Toronto into the growing Free Geek movement. So, what’s a Free Geek?

Free Geek is a thriving not-for-profit organization that started in Portland, Oregon in the year 2000. Their mission is to recycle electronic waste in a safe and ethical manner, while providing people from the community with access to computers, the Internet, education and job skills, in exchange for community service. There are now affiliated groups in eight states, and in Vancouver, BC.

CyberEquality will organize training for community members to build their own computers from recycled parts, and to install and use free, open source software. They will provide a workshop, tools, and a collection point for donated computers. With support from neighbourhood agencies in Toronto’s west end, they hope to be up and running by the new year.

Who’s in charge of all this, anyway? Well actually, you are. In accordance with Free Geek principles, CyberEquality will be democratically run in a non-hierarchical way that is open and transparent to all participants in its programs. If you want to be one of those in charge, contact cyberequality [at] yahoo dot ca, or call 416-657-1558.

And stay tuned for further exciting developments!

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  1. Great job, Wayne! Much better than my version.. For all readers, an introductory 5-minute video on Free Geeks can be enjoyed by ‘googling’ or searching for the phrase: “Welcome to Free Geek”

  2. What an incredible concept! There is power in knowledge, and finding a way to get the tools into the hands of those who could most benefit is a great start.

  3. Free Geeks video link …

  4. I know during my time of living off medical welfare (social assistance) in Toronto from 1998 to 2001, I depended allot on libraries for computer use and to help kill the long days and food banks and soup kitchens to eat. If I had been living in Timmins as I do now (after I won my settlement from the WSIB) I would have experienced a much more difficult time as you can only go to the food banks here once a month (3 food banks) and the local soup kitchen only serves one main meal a week every Thursday. A city the size of Timmins (45,000) should at least have a soup kitchen that serves one good meal seven days per week.

  5. This is a fantastic idea and should be supported. I myself live in the Kirkland lake area and there are a lot of people here that do not have a computer at all and very little access to one. I myself for several years had no computer but I was able to buy parts one at a time ontill I was able to put one together. Now I’m not sure what I would do without one I am on ODSP and have severe agoraphgobia along with a great fear of being in crowded places so the library was not realy an option for me. I have seen many newer computers disposed of in the dump I work from time to time for here and have grabed what I could and built computers for the many people here that could not afford one and there are many more that would like one most of whome have school age children. For these children not having a computer at home is a dissadvantage. I would like to see more of this type of organization throughout the north as the people here are very much in need of a service like this. Please Email me and give me some pointers on how I might start something like this in my area… Thank you Rob Payne.

  6. Great idea. Could there be such services and groups in the Kingston, Ontario area?

  7. Hi

    Great Concept I just started doing some training at the first computer lab that we set up,

    I am part http://computersforcommunities.ca/ the Ottawa group trying to do similar things.


  8. Ian, there is a Free Geek startup group in Kingston. It’s campus-based, and while I’m not sure of their status, you can look them up at: http://fgk.opirgkingston.org/

    And yes, Computers for Communities in Ottawa is another startup. I’ve been in email contact with both groups, and I’m glad to write that we in Toronto are moving along quite nicely, IMHO. News has been spreading; I’d describe it as viral.

    Even the Business Plan v 10 has a major deadline of a week from now, and will be finished September 14th. Over 20 active volunteers, a brand new mission statement arrived at by consensus, lots of hardware donations, 6 active workgroups, some initial funding from the United Church…And we really haven’t done that much outreach, either, as we’re concentrating on absorbing the new volunteers that come out every week to one meeting or another, volunteer for tasks, etc. By all means, contact cyberequality [at] yahoo dot ca with your phone number, and we’ll be in touch.

    Cathy, Founder

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