The 2012-13 Vancouver Community Network (VCN) Youth Initiative (YI) program held its fourth all-intern workshop on January 22 in the Woodward’s Building, bringing together the more than 30 Metro Vancouver youth who have been working at non-profit organizations based in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood all the way to Bowen Island since the beginning of fall.
Free Geek Director of Marketing Nigel Cornwall opened the workshop by introducing the interns to the nonprofit community organization and its mandate to reduce the environmental impact of waste electronics by reusing and recycling donated technology.
Free Geek Volunteer Coordinator Michael DuBelko continued the presentation with an overview of the organization’s four operations principles, the first of which he said is ethical e-waste recycling.
“We process around 25 tonnes of e-waste every month,” said DuBelko. “While a lot of conventional recyclers who haven’t been ratified through the Basel Convention do the ‘ship and dump’, we don’t.”
He said that while the organization strives to recycle locally, it is still not possible to ethically recycle certain materials within Canada.
“Motherboards and circuit boards are actually so difficult, so complicated to recycle that there is no place in Canada that does it,” he said. “We actually have to send all the circuit boards and motherboards to Mount Vernon, in Washington, because it’s the closest place that does it.
“There’s only one place in North America that will actually take printer toner and recycle it from not just corporations,” he continued. “They’re way out in Pennsylvania, so we send the truck all the way across the continent.”
In addition to ethical e-waste recycling, DuBelko said Free Geek operations are aimed at breaking down accessibility barriers to technology.
“The computer industry thrives on selling lots and lots of products on a very, very short cycle, basically selling as much as they can as quickly as they can, making very poor quality products that fall apart very quickly,” he said. “This creates accessibility barriers for anyone who cannot afford to buy a computer over and over again.
“Anybody who doesn’t have the money to buy a new computer or buy a new cell phone every year or every two years, which is the average lifespan of some of these products, they get left behind, they can’t afford to use the latest software. Skype, for instance, doesn’t work on a lot of older hardware, and in many cases they can’t communicate with their families. All sorts of problems arise from that.”
He said that through an Adoption Program where people are able to volunteer for 24 hours in exchange for a free computer, Free Geek has been working to break down accessibility barriers to technology and support open access to computer knowledge.
VCN’s own Tech Team continued the workshop with a presentation led by system administrator Chris Chanhsamone.
“We offer non-profits support with server administration and desktop support,” Chanhsamone told the interns. “We’re not here to make a profit and we don’t have any commercial clients, so our costs are lower and we can target non-profit organizations. We’re non-profit ourselves, so we understand some of the issues they also face.”
After Tech Team Help Desk intern Sungki Min demonstrated the web hosting service process, Chanhsamone taught the group the main parts of a desktop computer and shared a video teaching the interns how to assemble them. A computer assembly competition followed, overseen by Tech Team members.
With the winners of the computer assembly competition crowned, current intern James Barth took the floor to give an overview of Bowen Island and his IHO site the Bowen Island Public Library. Barth said he has been busy supporting basic computing at the library, doing web content management and marketing, and in-house training with staff on software applications such as the Zinio reader and its applications.
“Most public libraries have an extensive online catalogue of both e-books and audio books, which a lot of people don’t actually know are out there,” said Barth. “It’s too bad, because if you have a library card you can have access to all of these fantastic materials. A good part of my job is familiarizing people with these catalogues; letting them know that Project Gutenberg exists, and then showing them how to use them.”
Nasra Mire, who is interning at the Pacific Community Resources’ WorkBC Employment Resource Centre in Surrey, also said that she has been supporting basic computing at her site. She said that illiteracy levels have been a challenge in teaching computer and Internet skills to clients, and that she has been creating a curriculum that she hopes will facilitate the continuation of computer classes after the completion of her contract this spring.
Petra Vancova then spoke about her experience interning at W2 Community Media Arts, an organization that was working for cross-cultural dialogue, social inclusion and to break the digital divide in Vancouver until it was shut down in December of 2012. She said that she gained valuable experience in event planning and execution, supporting events such as the Woodwards Indigenous Winter Market. Since the closure of W2 she said she has been working on the VCN archives and website.
After Vancova’s talk, Collingwood Neighbourhood House intern Hansen Wong told the group that he has been using his technical skills by offering a computer repair service at the centre.
Finally, the two web interns who have been working at Geist, Jesmine Cham and Armita Farah Avar, spoke about their respective projects to close the workshop.
While Avar said she has been focusing mostly on website design, Cham said she has been focusing on content management, uploading print articles to the website, working on back issue archives, and tagging articles so that “hopefully in the future we’ll be able to use these tags to sort articles by themes and offer digital compilations, and these will also make it easier if you want to look for something.”