I spent yesterday with Georgia Morgan, our Project Manager in Jamaica, talking about how we would proceed now that we’ve shut down our operations there. We still need to support the computers that are in warranty, and provide end of life recycling options for the more than 3,000 computers that have been sent to schools since Camara Jamaica Foundation opened its doors in 2011.
I remember meeting Georgia for the first time about a year ago at the hub at Penwood High School. At the time we were still trying to build the hub into a sustainable social enterprise, but in the end, it just didn’t work out. Jamaica has had a tough time in the last five years. A decade ago during the economic boom it had a thriving tourism industry, and many of the corporations that fared well during that time established non-profit foundations to put money back into the community.
Education has always been a priority in Jamaica – it’s widely available to children from all walks of life. But when the world economy crashed, Jamaica’s economy crashed too. Unemployment soared, corporations went out of business or scaled back, and the result was foundation money dried up. At the same time, the schools themselves suffered massive cutbacks because the tax revenue the government had been receiving during the boom times fell away with the crash. The sad reality is that, while education is important to Jamaica, the funds to invest in anything, technology included, are just not there right now. So when I see Jamaican children walking home from school in their brightly colored uniforms, I’m always a little sad thinking of the missed opportunity.
Georgia and I had a really good discussion with Crouse Campbell, Operations Manager at University West Indies, one of the last customers to purchase a Camara Jamaica Foundation eLearning Centre. We were talking about end of life recycling and during the discussion Crouse confirmed what we had found as well when researching environmentally responsible recycling solutions for Jamaica last year. There are none.
So at the end of last year when we cleared out the hub, we re-imported all of the non-functioning computers we had collected back from schools to Ireland for recycling. This was an expensive option, but it was the only environmentally and socially responsible option available to us. I am so glad we did because if we hadn’t, it likely would have ended up just like most of the ewaste in Jamaica – either stored or worse, dumped in landfills like Riverton Dump in Spanishtown.
On March 12th the first reports of a massive fire at the landfill site began to make news headlines in the Caribbean. The fire burned for more than two weeks, releasing a massive amount of hazardous pollutants into the air around Kingston. Schools were closed, people were advised to stay indoors and keep windows shut, the smoke from the fire choked the entire city. I am really glad Camara computers weren’t fueling that fire.
I wasn’t surprised when Crouse became angry describing the fire and the state of waste management in Jamaica. He was really upset that such a thing could happen there. I don’t blame him. It bugs me every time I walk through Dublin and see the remains of a toaster on the side of the street. At least I can pick that up and make sure it gets recycled. He doesn’t have that option.
But the good news, he told me, is that the company that handles waste for Kingston is starting to establish an ewaste processing system. If this works, even if it’s just disassembly and shipping the component parts off to scrap and recycling centers, then that would be a huge step in the right direction. So here’s hoping.
And as for me…I’m off to Haiti!