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CommuniTech Works Locally to Bridge the Digital Divide
April 8, 2011
Robyn Fizz
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CommuniTech, a volunteer-based initiative at MIT, works to bridge the Digital Divide – the gap between those who have access to information technologies and those who do not. The group has been going strong since 2000.

When it started out, CommuniTech focused on refurbishing older donated computers and giving them to economically disadvantaged people in the area. With that piece in place, the volunteers discovered that their job was only half done. Those given computers had to reach a comfort level in using them, which was hard to do on their own. So CommuniTech began to offer an introductory computer course to those who received the systems.

Those two branches continue today. The Used Computer Factory (UCF), coordinated by CSAIL staff member Jason Dorfman, refurbishes donated computers. Families Accessing Computer Technology (FACT), coordinated by MIT senior Ian J. Sugel, handles the client-training side.

UCF: The Fix-IT Factory

CommuniTech is always looking for donations of Pentium IV machines or better. (Macs are currently not part of the program.) Flat-screen LCD monitors in full working order are also very much needed.

If you have a computer you’d like to donate, begin by filling out the form at imara.csail.mit.edu. If your department has older computers available for donation, contact MIT’s Property Manager, Michael McCarthy, so that he can deactivate the computers and keep a record of the donation. You can reach him at mmccarth@mit.edu or 617.253.2779.

UCF has placed over 240 computers in local homes since 2000. It's a win-win situation: the new owners benefit and the computers get reused rather than recycled.

FACT Gives Back
The FACT course covers hardware basics and word processing, spreadsheet, web browser, and email applications. Each volunteer is matched with a client and works with him or her for two hours on Saturday mornings over six weeks.

Sugel relishes making a difference in the local community: "Growing up in the age of the computer, most of us take its use for granted, but access to a computer changes someone's life forever. It's about giving people the freedom to explore the world in ways that they had never thought possible."

Get Involved
Anyone at MIT is welcome to help with UCF or FACT. Both programs have training sessions for volunteers at the start of each semester. Volunteers also meet periodically to discuss their experiences and issues concerning the Digital Divide.

CSAIL staff member Jason Dorfman volunteers his time to run CommuniTech and raise funds for the program. To get in touch with CommuniTech, send mail to communitech-staff@mit.edu or call 617.324.9135.

IMARA, the organization in CSAIL that sponsors CommuniTech, strives to empower underserved communities through sustainable technology and education. (Imara means “power” in Swahili.) IMARA also sponsors projects in the Fijian Islands, Kenya, the Middle East, and Navajo communities in the U.S. Southwest.

To learn more about IMARA and its outreach efforts, including CommuniTech, visit imara.csail.mit.edu.