KUALA LUMPUR: Where do all old laptops go?
Adam Stephens and Jeremy Sharpe, both 17, did not expect this simple question to lead them on the path to an ambitious cause, one that should be an inspiration to others.
Stephens told FMT Lifestyle that he and Sharpe noticed that their computer science teachers at Alice Smith International School had been getting new laptops and asked where the old ones went.
“They said they’d just leave them in a cupboard somewhere and would dispose of them after two years,” he said.
Sharpe added: “We decided that we were going to take the old laptops and redistribute them to people who could use them.”
This inspired Forward Future Project, a student-led social initiative that repurposes discarded laptops for children from Sabah’s Pulau Omadal Bajau Laut community and refugees in Kuala Lumpur from the Chin and Zomi ethnic groups of Myanmar.
Sharpe moved to Malaysia from Australia’s Byron Bay in 2015. Stephens, who is of European and Malay descent, has lived in the country for a longer time.
The pair presented their plan last September to the IT head of their school. After months of paperwork and emails, the project was approved early this year.
They also contacted a local tech company to source for additional laptops.
They have collected RM125,000 worth of laptops, 16 of which have been given to the two Myanmar refugee communities and eight to Iskul Sama DiLaut Omadal, a community-run school for stateless children in Pulau Omadal.
Initially, their attention was on Iskul. They learned from an Iskul volunteer that there was only one laptop for nearly 30 students. To make matters worse, there was no electricity and internet for days if it stormed, disrupting classes for teachers who relied on Zoom or Google Meet.
“They were planning on building a computer lab,” Sharpe said. “But for unforeseen reasons, it has not been built yet and is scheduled to be built in next year’s first quarter.
“When that does happen, they’ll have the infrastructure to power the computers and that’s when we’ll be able to go down there, donate more laptops and help them out,” he said.
Stephens and Sharpe then decided to assist students closer to home. They had already volunteered at the Zomi Learning Centre in Kampung Attap and the Chin Refugee Centre in Cheras.
Since their laptop donations, the two boys have been tutoring more than 100 Myanmar refugees aged six to 18 at the two centres for four hours a week. They have been doing this for more than six months.
Stephens recounted a heartwarming moment in which an eight-year-old boy successfully completed a coding exercise. The pure joy he saw in the boy’s face was more than enough to motivate him to stay on the project.
“It just resonated with me,” he said. “He never would have had this opportunity if we couldn’t give these laptops.”
For Sharpe, it is his way of giving back to the many people who have helped him in his life.
“I firmly believe that the more you put into life, the more you get out of it,” he said.
The two paid tribute to teachers, parents and friends whose support have fuelled their journey. “Our friends have been great at motivating us but also slowing us down, not letting us get ahead of ourselves,” Stephens said.
The duo are eager to pass the torch to younger students from their school to ensure that their initiative continues to thrive.
“We want to carry it down through the years and let our juniors have the same drive to go and help these kids and to expand the initiative and make it better,” said Stephens, who’s currently building an education app.
To inspire other teenagers seeking to initiate similar projects, Stephens and Sharpe offered some advice. They emphasised the importance of asking questions, following leads, trusting your instincts and building a strong support system.
Above all, they encourage taking the plunge and not being afraid to pursue an idea.
“If you have a plan, just go with it,” Stephens said. “You won’t regret it. Don’t make it just work; make it enjoyable and have fun in the process.”