Many low-income families do not own computers or have internet access, but thanks to several community organizations this will change in the near future.
Technology Without Borders is a UNC-CH Campus Y organization that will be installing free wireless internet at Abbey Court Condominiums and distributing free computers.
“There was a group of us sitting around thinking about what we wanted to do for the semester, so we tried to figure out what we could do locally. Once we found the Human Rights Center everything just fell into place,” said Shaddi Hasan, one of TWB’s co-chairs.
TWB has not been around for long. The group was only awarded its grant donation of $8,000 in the fall 2009, but that has not stopped the group from dreaming big when it comes to trying to conquer the “digital divide.”
According to Wikipedia, the definition of the digital divide, “refers to the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access at all.” This gap is preventing people of all ages from applying for jobs and entering college, and it is impeding their education.
Technology Without Borders is starting in Carrboro’s Abbey Court Condominium.
The project will be completed in three stages. Volunteers will begin with the installation of the wireless network, follow with the distribution of computers to eligible homes, and finish with community computer training classes through the Human Rights Center, said Hasan.
TWB members have already begun to work with the students to get to know the families at Abbey Court.
“The internet changed my life infinitely for the better, and then multiply that by how many people this is going to affect and it is just amazing,” said Ashton Mickey, a TWB member who is volunteering at the Center.
The installation of the wireless network is under way, and the distribution of free computers will soon begin.
“We will be giving computers to every family that doesn’t have one who has a student within the next month or so, thanks to the school system and Kramden Institute,” said Hasan.
Kramden Institute in Durham, a not-for-nonprofit organization, “is dedicated to empowering hardworking, economically disadvantaged, students by awarding them home PC computers,” according to their Web site.
Renny Johnson, manager of Community Connection Program and IT director for Chapel Hill and Carrboro school systems, made the computer donations happen, according to Hasan.
Hasan said TWB’s main goal with the project is to raise the number of K-12 students who have access to computers and internet in their homes because it is a serious impediment to their learning and educational opportunities.
“In the Chapel Hill and Carrboro District, 1,100 kids classify as underserved which means not having internet or computers in their homes. One of the main reasons we chose Abbey Court to begin is because 191 of those students live in Abbey Courts alone. Also, the Human Rights Center already had a presence there,” said Hasan.
The Human Rights Center is housed in Apartment E8, and TWB has already installed two of the modems for the wireless internet in that building, making it completely wireless and operational.
The people who are involved with the Human Rights Center are very excited for the project.
“We have a child who comes here who doesn’t even really know how to type on a computer and in this day and age that is a big detriment. So that is going to change for him, his life is going to be changed by this, and that’s amazing,” said Nancy Hilburn who volunteers at the Center and works for the Mary Scroggs Elementary School in Chapel Hill.
Hilburn is the inclusion facilitator at the school and comes to the center to help the children with their homework after school.
Another person witnessing this change first hand is Alfonso Hernandez. He lives at The Human Rights Center and manages the after-school program for the kids.
“I feel like once it is up and finally running the kids will still be coming here, but they will be able to have it (internet) at home as well,” said Hernandez.
“We are also going to provide classes for adults on how to use a computer because many of the parents have to ask their kids how to use a computer. The parents will also benefit a lot to learn about the internet,” said Hernandez.
Technology Without Borders is steadily working towards putting in the wireless devices around Abbey Court and will continue over the next several months, while holding classes which will help prepare the families receiving computers how to use them.
“What we need to see the most in all of this is how much we can accomplish when we work together,” said Dr. Blau, founder of the Human Rights Center.