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B.C. student refurbishing, donating computers to kids for online learning

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A Vancouver high school student has turned his passion for computers into an act of public service that’s already helped dozens of families.

Eleventh-grader Michael Chen loves tinkering with and building computers, and was inspired to start refurbishing them for others when the pandemic hit and students were sent home.

Read more: B.C. parents calling for remote learning options, fear kids will lose spots

A reading program he and his St. Georges classmates ran at East Vancouver’s Thunderbird School was put on pause, and Chen asked if there was another way he could help.

“The first thing they mentioned was online education,” he said.

“It was really hard for these public schools to conduct online education for everyone in their school because some people might not have … access to electronics.”

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Since then, Chen has been soliciting computer donations, and working with a team of four other volunteers, he’s been rebuilding them and donating them to students in need at Thunderbird.

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“The response was immediate,” he said.

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“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to collect as many computers as I wanted to help everybody in the community.”

Thunderbird School kindergarten teacher Camilla Ting said the pandemic has been particularly difficult for low-income families, who have faced barriers in shifting to online classwork.

“As soon as we transitioned into learning from home, we then had families who struggled with access, she said.

“We had families who didn’t even have internet services.”

Chen has collected about 80 computers so far, and has refurbished and donated about 30 already.

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He’s now in talks with other schools about expanding his program, but needs help.

Read more: Students return to virtual school as part of Ontario coronavirus lockdown measures

He needs volunteers, either who are passionate about building computers or who can help collect donated machines.

He also needs more computers. PCs, macs, laptops, desktops broken computers and even computers and mice are welcome, he said.

All devices will have their data securely wiped, he said.

“From all of these accessories we’ll be able to piece together a full set and send them out to a student in need,” he said.

“The students will be able to use a clean computer, and the donators will not have any of their data leaked.”

Anyone who wants to donate time or hardware can connect with Chen through the Fair for All project’s website.

In doing so, they may help radically change the pandemic experience for a younger student, said Ting.

“For one family, they received a refurbished MacBook, and in June, all of our school devices were returned,” she said.

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“This family returned their MacBook because they couldn’t believe that shiny laptop was theirs to keep. We had to phone them to come back and pick up their computer.”

With files from Nadia Stewart