In Romania, one of the EU's poorest countries, hope to many has come in
the form of a computer recycling program that is helping jobless adults
and disadvantaged Roma youth beat the odds.
"People joined forces and
created a win-win situation that gives everyone a chance," said
Elisabeta Lacatus, a teacher in the eastern city of Galati.
helps autistic children and Roma youth living in dire straits in
Galati, influenced in part by her own experience raising an autistic
She gets a helping hand from the Bucharest-based "Ateliere
fara frontiere" (Workshop Without Borders), whose core activity is
"They have a program enabling homeless and
disabled people, as well as school dropouts, to fix computers in order
to rejoin the labour market," Lacatus said.
The organisation provides them with counselling and help locating housing in addition to a salary and training.
2009, the program has helped 80 people reintegrate back into the
community, with half of them able to find a job elsewhere.
used computers -- donated by embassies and firms like retailers
Carrefour and Auchan, the Dacia subsidiary of carmaker Renault and
energy giant GDF Suez -- are then gifted to local schools and
communities after their makeover.
The group also sells a percentage of the computers to recycling firms to fund the operation.
an effort in line with last year's calls by the EU and UN for countries
to improve their recycling efforts, as currently only 13 percent of
electronic waste is recycled in the world.
In the EU alone, more
than 10 million tonnes of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic
Equipment) are generated a year, part of which is exported illegally to
Electronic waste, which contains toxic
material like heavy metals or brominated flame retardant, can cause
widespread damage to the environment and human health.
Last year, Ateliere fara frontiere collected more than 100 tonnes of WEEE for its recycling program.
Growing discrepancy in computer literacy
organisation also provides a boost to those on the receiving end, given
the large discrepancy in computer access between the capital and the
rest of the country, the 27-nation EU's second poorest after Bulgaria.
those who benefited from the 1,380 computers donated by the
non-governmental organisation last year is School 15 Elena Cuza in
"In our school, most of the kids don't have toys at home
because their families can't afford them", said physical education
teacher Nicolae Ciocan.
"Many families have no electricity nor running water, so you can imagine they don't have a computer either."
has been fighting tirelessly for 14 years to provide his Roma students
with a better future in a highly prejudiced society.
"Those who say that Roma can't be taught are wrong. Every year, we see many of them achieve great success," he said.
"But they have to be offered support since they've been carrying around heavier burdens than others since birth."
for centuries, Romanian Roma still face discrimination in the job and
housing markets, despite some progress in the field of education.
year, outgoing US ambassador Mark Gitenstein compared the Roma's plight
to that of blacks in the American Deep South of his childhood.
For School 15, it has to make do with a neighbourhood without public parks or playgrounds and computers that are a decade old.
Lacatus and the school staff are doing their best to offset the growing
discrepancy in computer literacy among the country's children.
secured several computers for the school through the Ateliere fara
frontiere program, as well as for the space where she offers
after-school activities and computer classes much beloved by students.
"I don't have a computer at home, so I'm very happy to learn here," said 10-year-old David, while drawing a house on the screen.
classmate Petrisor deftly used his mouse to sketch a cherry tree,
something he can only do here as his caretaker grandparents can't afford
"They're very interested in computers because it's both a learning tool and a game for them," Ciocan said about the students.
Down the road, Lacatus would like to harness the power of computers to help autistic children like her son communicate.
for now, the recycling program is helping people like 24-year-old Thalo
Kitoka make ends meet and find meaning by fixing computers.
"I feel useful, my work matters to these children."