After a short hiatus I’m back with the NGO interviews. This time I spoke with Michael and Michelle Hall of Qimo 4 kids.
LC: Can you tell me about your organisation?
MH: QuinnCo is a very small not for profit located in Central Florida. In fact, it’s just the two of us, Michelle and I, operating out of our house and garage. We take in second hand computers, fix them up if they aren’t working, then put Ubuntu or Qimo on them and give them out to kids and families in need. We given out approx. 50 computers this year.
LC: What is the mission of your organisation?
MH: We believe that every child, regardless of physical, mental or financial abilities, deserves the same access to technology and education. A child with a computer has a much better chance of success in school, and knowledge of computers is a requirement for almost any job these days. Our mission is to provide a computer for those children in our community who wouldn’t otherwise have access to one.
LC: So what made you get involved in this?
MH : When our son Quinn was 4, he was already showing an interest in our computers. I had an old tower that I wasn’t using, so I installed Ubuntu on it for him along with some OSS games, and he took to it like a fish to water, teaching himself how to do things I never showed him. Because of that, I bought another computer from a yard sale, set it up the same way, and gave it to his daycare facility. About 3 months later, I had one of the kids from his class run up to me out of the blue and thank me for their computer. Talking about it to Michelle that night, she convinced me that we should start up a charity to do this on a larger scale, and QuinnCo was born.
LC : Can you give us a few examples of what you have done? Have some pictures you can share? (Dholbach likes pictures )
MH: We recently held a community build day, where we had members of the Ubuntu Florida LoCo and several local LUGs come out to a local children’s home to help fix up our backlog of broken computers. We had as many kids there as adults, learning how to fix up computers and installing Ubuntu and Qimo on them. Pictures of the event can be found on our website:
LC: Perhaps you can explain to use the issues you’ve come up against?
MH : Our initial problem was two-fold. First we needed an operating system that was easy for very young kids, most of whom would not be reading yet, to navigate and learn to use on their own. There were educational distros like Edubuntu already available, but their interfaces required navigating menus, and being able to read.
Second, all of our donated computers at that point were Pentium 3’s or older, with less than 256 MB of memory. We needed an operating system that would be responsive enough on this older hardware, so that the kids wouldn’t get impatient waiting on their games to load.
Xubuntu met the second half of our needs, it ran quite well on the hardware that we had. But we still needed an easy to use interface. Luckily, being open source meant
that I could change that. So I took an Xubuntu LiveCD, and following instructions on the Ubuntu Wiki, created Qimo: http://www.qimo4kids.com
LC: What are the challenges you’ve faced within this project?
MH: Our biggest task has been managing inventory. We get lots of computers in, most are missing parts of have bad parts. We also get a lot of boxes of parts. We need a good way of tracking what equipment we have. However, most of those kinds of applications are implemented as web-based server solutions. Well we’re not that big, we don’t have an internal server for these purposes, so to use them we would have to install and run a webserver on one of our laptops. For organizations as small as ours, desktop solutions are easier to get setup and use.
LC: What kind of solution did you come up with to make this all happen?
MH: Aside from donated computers, we use Ubuntu Server to host our websites http://www.quinncoincorporated and www.growingupfree.org I use Ubuntu on my personal laptop, which is the one I used to make Qimo, and Michelle has it on her netbook. We use them when giving presentations on QuinnCo and Qimo, but for the most part they are for personal use.
LC: Do you use any proprietary software now ?
MH: We were given a tablet PC, which is running Windows XP. It is very useful for taking hand-written notes while away from home. It was heavily used to track
things during our children’s home build day. I don’t know of any good tablet note-taking applications for Linux, so I haven’t tried installing it on there.
LC: What would you like to see improved in Ubuntu resources like documentation?
MH: We desperately need some good new-user documentation we can give out with our donations. I have been including the PDF version of the Ubuntu Pocket Guide, but an intro/tour type documentation would help us.
LC: So what is your experience of this good or bad , have you picked up any nice tips?
MH: Explaining to the people we’re donating computers too that they don’t have Windows on them. How to create a custom distro!
LC: What would you suggest to our readers that are interested in an initiative like yours?
MH: Just do it. There is no barrier to entry, you probably have or know somebody who has an old computer that isn’t being used. You probably also know a family, school or daycare that can’t afford to buy computers. It takes literally an hour of your time, at most, and will have a life-long impact on those you donate too.
LC: How can interested readers help your organisation?
MH: If you’re in central Florida, send us an email and we’ll let you know when we are holding build events. If you have Pentium 4 or newer computers, we will arrange to pick them up from you.
If you’re not in central Florida, visit http://www.growingupfree.org/wiki/index.php/Orgs_By_Location and find one that is near you. If there isn’t one near you, then get one started! Again, the barrier to entry is non-existant.
LC: Finally, any good or funny stories, best lessons that you would like to tell to the world.
MH: Don’t worry about starting small. As soon as people hear about what you are doing, they will want to help. We went from having 3 computers to having almost 30 in about 2 week’s time. We put out a call for volunteers to help us fix them, and our last event had 75 people come out. Start with a single
computer, and go from there.
Thank you for taking part, it’s been very interesting!