Thu. May 30th, 2024

Forget tossing that ancient computer! Sujan’s got a mighty fine alternative

Emily Hudson By Emily Hudson May17,2024
In a small, brightly lit workshop, Sujan Selven and his team are busy restoring unwanted computers for donation to local families.
Selven is the founder of Upcycled Tech, a social enterprise that aims to help get more school students online, especially those from disadvantaged families.
“In Australia, even though we are a developed country, there are many families with no access to devices,” says Selven, 38.

“When students don’t have access outside the classroom, they often fall behind at school. So, a second-hand computer helps with their homework, research and assignments.”

A  man in a white t-shirt sits at a desk repairing a second hand computer.

A volunteer restoring a used computer at the workshop. Source: SBS / Spencer Austad

It’s a view backed up by research. A recent KPMG report found that 84 per cent of students with inadequate access to a computer (outside the classroom) struggled to finish class work and assignments.

Selven’s team upgrades discarded technology. Many devices are donated by small businesses or charities.

Tamil community volunteer Viji Dhayanathan says for refugee and asylum seeker families, the gift of technology can be life-changing.

A woman in a blue and white striped shirt holds up a laptop.

Viji Dhayanathan is a Tamil community volunteer. Source: SBS / Spencer Austad

“Most children are now using laptops to do their studies. But in many families, parents just can’t afford to buy three or four laptops if they have three or four kids.

“Without a device, they cannot keep up with their studies or do their homework like other children.”
Selven also grew up with limited technology, in a remote area of northern Sri Lanka.

He was born into a Tamil family in 1985 in Vanni district, during that country’s bitter civil war.

A man in a multi-coloured shirt sits at a computer.

Sujan Selven at his Sydney office. Source: SBS / Spencer Austad

“We did not have access to electricity, let alone a computer. For much of my childhood, we were hiding in bunkers.

“The air force would bomb the Vanni area, and a lot of schools were [hit]. Many of my school friends were killed during the war,” he says.
Selven arrived in Australia with his family in 2000, and later worked closely with other refugees. It was then he began looking for a way to give back.
“I’m alive and I survived, and I think I have a responsibility to do something.

“So, when I learned about the [digital divide] I decided to focus on that, to help solve that problem.”

A man in a white t-shirt reaches across a desk as another man looks on.

Saif Al-Yousuf and Sujan Selven (standing) restoring a computer. Source: SBS / Spencer Austad

His venture now supports local families in Australia and is also making a difference in his homeland, Sri Lanka.

“In remote areas of Sri Lanka, less than 20 per cent of the population has access to devices. Internet connectivity is even lower,” he says.
“Students in Sri Lanka often share one to two computers between around 30 students. We have given some schools 15 computers per classroom,” he says.

“And that’s in three provinces – north, east and south. So far, we have donated more than one thousand devices.”

Sri Lanka is gradually emerging from a severe financial crisis during which inflation peaked at 70 per cent.
That led to mass protests, with millions suffering from food, medical and fuel shortages.
Among Sri Lankans to benefit from Upcycled Tech donations is Lathukshan, a robotics and computer science student.

“Learning was tough earlier as we had only two computers. Since the laptops were donated, learning has become much easier,” he says. “So, thank you for these devices.”

Used cables and computers stacked against a white wall.

Electronic waste ready to be upcycled. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

But Selven is doing more than donating technology to Australians and Sri Lankans.

Recycling is an effective way to reduce the 200-thousand tonnes of computers and other electronic or ‘e-waste’ sent to landfill each year.
CEO of PlanetArk, Rebecca Gilling, Australia generates 531,000 tons of e-waste annually.
“E-waste is one of the fastest growing areas of waste globally, and Australia cuts well above its weight,” she says.
“According to the National Waste Report of 2022, which is the most recent data we all have, the average Australian produced in excess of 20 kilograms of e-waste.

“That is far in excess of the global average, which is around seven kilos per person per year,” she says.

Male hands hold up a section of a computer.

Restoring a discarded computer. Source: SBS / Spencer Austad

“In 2020-21, about 54 per cent of the e-waste that we generated was sent for recycling, and of that, about 35 per cent of materials were recovered. So the rest unfortunately went into landfill.

Australians buy almost five million new computers annually, and millions of old, unwanted computers are sent to landfill each year.
According to Gilling, dumping used technology is both dangerous and a missed opportunity.

“We’re losing very valuable materials like precious metals. And we are also putting potentially toxic materials into landfill,” she says.

A row of computer towers on a table in front of a window.

Donated computers ready for upcylcing. Source: SBS / Sandra Fulloon

“So, we really need to collect those items, keep them in circulation wherever possible.”

For technician Saif Al-Yousef, who volunteers at Upcycled Tech, repairing used devices is a win-win for the environment and struggling families.
“We clean the devices, upgrade them with new parts, and then we make sure that they are working perfectly,” he says.

“That way, computers and laptops will keep going for perhaps another five or six years without families spending too much money.

A man in a white t-shirt sitting at a desk with computers.

Saif Al-Yousuf volunteers restoring computers in Sydney. Source: SBS / Spencer Austad

“It makes me very happy, knowing a child who has no computer will get a device that helps with their education.”

Founder Sujan Selven still works full-time as an operations manager at a civil electrical company, and says his project will give five restored laptops to an anti-slavery charity in Australia this week.
He also aims to increase the delivery of devices to his homeland.
“It is a lot of red tape at the moment to take the devices into Sri Lanka. But we are slowly discussing with the government to make things smoother,” he says.

“In future, we want to expand the number of devices that we receive, and the number of people that benefit from our service.”

A man in a multi-coloured jacket standing in front of a decorative wall.

Sujan Selven at his Sydney workshop. Source: SBS / Spencer Austad

“My goal is to connect each school with a computer. And I think we are progressing on that in Sri Lanka,” he says.

“But eventually, I hope to get a computer and connectivity into each household.
“That would be my ultimate goal.”

This story was produced in collaboration with SBS Tamil.

Emily Hudson

By Emily Hudson

Emily is a talented author who has published several bestselling novels in the mystery genre. With a knack for creating gripping plotlines and intriguing characters, Emily's works have captivated readers worldwide.

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2 thoughts on “Forget tossing that ancient computer! Sujan’s got a mighty fine alternative”
  1. How does Sujan Selven’s team manage to upgrade the discarded technology so effectively?

  2. As a parent, I think Sujan Selven’s initiative is truly inspiring. It’s heartwarming to see efforts being made to bridge the digital divide and provide equal opportunities for all students. Education should not be limited by access to technology, and initiatives like Upcycled Tech make a real difference in the lives of many families.

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