From trash to resource
Local humanitarian organisation SOLS Tech helps build a better tomorrow for the underprivileged through its tech recycling initiative
IN a large open space office on the second floor of a shoplot building, three workers were busy opening parts of a central processing unit of used computers.
They were checking for faulty parts, found replacements and fixed them back so that the computers can be used again.
There were easily 100 CPUs and laptops in the office floor. Some had been refurbished and some waiting to be checked.
Frederick Yail from Sabah, and Senourei and Maria from the Orang Asli villages in Kelantan and Pahang are part of the computer refurbishing team of SOLS Tech, an organisation that takes used and unwanted computers from companies and individuals, refurbishes them and refurbishes them away to the needy and poor. These include orphanages, Orang Asli communities, NGOs, community centres and social enterprises.
The refurbished computers may go to the villages they come from and be used by the community there or be used by other NGOs and communities.
"It's a kind of PHP concept, which is short for poor-help-poor," says SOLS Tech founder Raj Ridvan Singh.
He says most of the staff at SOLS Tech are from the Orang Asli community and Sabah.
"They come from poor families and never had the chance to further their education in the technology field. So we take them in to study at The SOLS Academy of Innovation where they learn subjects such as English, refurbishing computers, solar panel installation, IT as well as coding," says Raj.
The 34-year-old has a passion for helping the poor and underprivileged, and his way is giving them access to technology, such as computers.
For the past four years, SOLS Tech has donated more than 3,500 computers and laptops to the rural communities.
HOW IT STARTED
Raj thinks he got the spirit of giving and helping others from his father, a lecturer and writer who moved to Cambodia with the family in 1997 to help the people there with whatever he could.
"I remember that each time my dad worked on his computer, the Cambodians would come near to see what he was doing, with curious looks in their eyes. They had not seen a computer, let alone used one. That was when I told myself that one day I would help the poor and underprivileged to gain access to technology and information, to provide them with a better future," he says.
Raj came back to Malaysia after some years in Cambodia to pursue systems engineering studies at a private college in Melaka and graduated at the young age of 17. He was also already a Microsoft-certified engineer.
He went back to Cambodia in 2000 to help his father to help the needy there.
Soon, Raj realised that the world is fast driven by technology and people need that to survive and communicate.
"If we want to move forward, we need to bring technology to the poor too so that they can improve their lives,” says Raj, who acquired some knowledge in fixing computers from his studies in college.
With the aim to help the poor in Malaysia, especially those living in rural areas, Raj returned and set up SOLS Tech in 2012.
The aim is to collect old and unused devices from the public, refurbish and distribute them to various projects and deserving communities.
"I want to address the digital divide affecting the poor. They also need computers to move forward and there are thousands of unused or unwanted computers lying in stores in many companies in the country," he says.
"Some of them will end up in landfills and, if not disposed properly, can lead to health hazards," he adds.
According to a study, 10 million Malaysians do not have access to computers and this limits their ability to benefit from 21st century opportunities.
"In 2015, Malaysians threw away 44 million electronic devices, which ended up in landfills, poisoning the water and soil," says Raj.
He started to knock on companies’ doors, asking for computers that were not needed anymore to be donated to charity.
"A new computer costs RM2,000 to RM3,000. If we ask companies to donate new computer units, they may not have the budget. However, if we ask them to give away their unwanted computers that we can refurbish back to working condition, they may want to help," he says.
Raj managed to get the support of the Hong Leong Foundation, DiGi, British American Tobacco, DHL, Thai Airways and a few more.
"The Hong Leong Foundation has been really supportive towards this cause. On top of giving unused computers from its companies, it also funded the refurbishment cost for the past three years," says Raj.
To date, SOLS Tech has helped more than 400 organisations throughout the country with the refurbished computers.
As all the computers have hard disks that contain valuable data, the process of removing the data is done carefully.
"We erase the data layer by layer until all are deleted. Whatever we can salvage, we reuse and send for recycling,” says Raj.
SOLS Tech has four workers, including Alberto Garcia Feito to help manage the refurbishing.
"We also give Microsoft Office together with the PCs as Microsoft has a special program for the poor. Some computers are installed with Linux OS," he says.
SOLS Tech is also a Microsoft-certified refurbisher.
The company also keeps an inventory of the computers, for instance, where they are sent to.
Besides refurbishing computers, SOLS Tech has other business to keep the organisation sustainable, for example, leasing some of the computers at RM1 a day to NGOs.
"We're also in the solar panel installation business for buildings and residential properties. We have the SOLS Academy of Innovation, where we give free education for the poor, especially Orang Asli kids, complete with hostel accommodation," says Raj.
After they graduate, some will work with SOLS Tech, he adds.
Raj hopes that more companies, as well as individuals, will have a open mind towards recycling and giving away their unused computers for the poor.
"It's one of the best ways to help bridge the digital divide," he says.
Contact SOLS Tech at www.sols247.org.