This Delhi NGO wants your old devices so that kids in remote areas can use it to learn online

Digital Daan is the latest initiative of Digital Empowerment Foundation who wants to ensure that in the wave of digital education, children from remote areas don't drown

Listen, you know as well as we do that the old phone that you left behind when you upgraded to a newer and cooler model is just going to gather dust in some obscure corner of your house. Also, what about that PC (Personal Computer) which is more of a relic? Or that camera lens which you were sure is going to make you a hot-shot photographer one day? These devices may have served their purpose in your life, but for someone else, they could be a lifeline. This is what New Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) is advocating. It is asking for your old and redundant devices which can be used by children in rural households to learn online, which has become the norm du jour since the pandemic took over our world and life, as we knew it. They are aptly calling this initiative Digital Daan.

Give one, give all
In the year 2002, Osama Manzar and Shaifali Chikermane started DEF with the aim to draw rural and marginalised communities out of the darkness and into the digital age. Their presence is spread across 500 locations in 126 districts of 23 states. And Digital Daan is one of the steps they took to get closer to their goal. Osama introduces us to this latest initiative and tells us that it's a three-year project during which they want to distribute one million devices. And when they say devices they mean smartphones, PCs, laptops, tablets, printers, projectors, camera and camera lens. "Many households have smartphones but sometimes it is with their father who is out or a brother who refuses to share. And then there are those households that don't have access at all. It's an unfair challenge, like having the Right to Information Act (RTI), but not being able to make use of it," explains. No wonder they have more requests from those people who need devices rather than those who are willing to donate them.  

This initiative started recently, in lieu of the increasing importance of digital education, for which, one needs a device and internet. "But this is not just a giving, receiving or crowdsourcing initiative, this is strategic. There is a lack of meaningful devices that are needed," he says. And because only 12.5 per cent of students have access to smartphones (as per 2017-18 National Sample Survey), it is important that they are given access as soon as possible.

Before you donate the device, all DEF asks is that you delete all your personal files, ensure that the devices are in working condition and they also request you to provide chargers along with it. Because the cost of collection, management and distribution can comes up to a lot, they are asking people to courier the devices over to them. Okay, so the collection plan is clear, what's the distribution plan, we ask. "We have over 700 community resource centres of our own, we will first use our own network and distribution channel. We are also creating a list of credible NGOs who work in the realm of education and who could do with devices. There are also people applying for devices and writing in to us for them, they will also be given devices," shares Osama. The first phase of distribution will begin in November.

Word of mouth at work
DEF has been getting a lot of attention on social media so they are happy with that. They even have a corporate on board who has agreed to provide 10,000 devices. But another challenge is collecting meaningful devices. "If you want to donate a smartphone which only works on 2G, then that's a bottleneck," explains Osama.

The elephant in the room, so to speak, in this situation is the internet. As providing devices is solving just one part of the equation because the internet still remains elusive in most rural areas. But Osama is not afraid to address this because they are hoping to advocate for it. "What we are advocating for is for internet service providers to offer student-friendly data packages that are cheaper and come at a discounted rate. Also, the network infrastructure itself needs to increase so that even remote areas can access the internet," he says. He also proposes that each state education department comes up with a scheme for digital devices, just like they are giving our free ration and offering scholarships. "And with the help of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (offers subsidies to make sure that telegraph services are accessible to all, especially those from rural areas) data packages can be worked out," he offers.

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