• Incremental Change Agency

How two students helped their classmates during COVID-19

This is Hadi Daoud and Owyn Aitken.

They run a company called Remojo Tech, a student led initiative repairing laptops and providing them for students to use. They run the business through the Young Enterise Scheme at Aotea College in Porirua, New Zealand. “The initiative is charitable, communal and environmental.” Hadi said.

"Across New Zealand, schools are seeing a drastic surge in the need to provide digital, at-home learning as the COVID-19 pandemic grows. As schools review their capacity to provide learning resources to students and whanau, the longstanding issues of the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) model are suddenly brought to light. Students throughout Aotearoa are now leaving school facing four weeks of quarantine — without the tools to communicate and continue to pursue their learning. It’s now apparent that ICT equability should no longer be ignored." Hadi said.

“We knew we could help our classmates. A lot of them don’t have computers so we worked to source second hand ones and repair them so they’d be ready for students to take home. We did this for free as our way of contributing to our community” Owyn said.

Through their work in the Young Enterprise Scheme, the company has pivoted from a soley community focus to a real social enterprise. This has allowed them to expand to begin charging for laptops for students at a price they can afford while also saving the environment.

The environmental impact is alarming:

- Producing a computer along with its monitor takes at least 1.5 tonnes of water, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 530 pounds of fossil fuels (Adeola, 2020)

- Compared to disposal in landfills or by incinerators, reusing or recycling computers can create 296 more jobs per year for every 10,000 tons of computer waste processed (Unhelkar, B & IGI Global)

- Only 20% of e-waste is documented to have been collected and recycled (UN Environment Programme, 2019)

“There was a real gap in the e-waste market with a lot of corporate providers disposing of old laptops when they get upgraded. Many of the ones we have received aren’t broken, they are just not new. We have been able to add value by improving their functionality with programming and small upgrades. We are passionate about the environment and so it was really important to us to help in this area.” Hadi said.

Hadi had already been fixing computers for a few years and was approached by Owyn to learn how. “Once I taught him, we had this realisation that our community didn’t have access to computers at home and it was something we could both help with while also helping the environment too” Hadi said.

From there, they trained others to help them, running workshops at their school for anyone interested. “To get through the COVID-19 pressure we mobiled 17 of our classmates and taught them how to fix laptops in one day, so we could get 30 up and running before the lockdown. We will be supporting those who have them remotely during this period where we are all at home.” Owyn said.

“Our biggest challenge is ensuring we have enough stock to meet the demand. New Zealand doesn’t have e-waste infrastructure in place so has historically shipped it overseas to be processed. With countries changing what they will take, this has created a great opportunity for us. Our model is vital to ensuring this waste can be reused rather than landfilled. “ Hadi said.

“There used to be a lot of stigma against second hand laptops. As people are understanding the cost and environmental impact though they are becoming more receptive. We are all about keeping the prices low and undercutting the market. We want to capitalise on the community aspect and the paradigm to make computers more accessible.” Owyn said.

“There are so many students that need computers. We are working to get more corporate partners and working closer with the community to source old devices, which can be recycled to ensure more young people have access. In this day and age, it feels like this should be a right. If people don’t have one they can get left behind in our society.” Hadi said.

“With COVID-19 it makes you even more aware of people being left out of the loop. Imagine not having a computer or internet and not really knowing how the world was going out there during isolation. These are big issues. We are glad we could help provide laptops to students before the lockdown and look forward to helping even more young people once this is over.” Owyn said.

Remojo have a model that is transferable on a city level. Their vision is to see more people diverting e-waste through this type of social enterprise. If you’re keen to learn more, start your own Remojo, or donate an old device you can find them at www.remojo.tech.