Why 31 Computers Are Headed to Africa Instead of a Landfill

Professor's shocking discovery leads to a 2-year effort to help students a world away.

When retired Physics Professor Steve Dytman walked into a classroom of university graduate students on the African island of Madagascar, he was floored. "I was shocked at the small number of computers available to such a large cohort of students," said Dytman. "They have 300 graduate students in physics and a handful of computers," compared to his physics classes at the University of Pittsburgh where there are more computers than students.

Pitt's Physics Department has three computers per student and faculty member. In Madagascar the ratio is one computer for a dozen students according to Dr. Dytman.

Dr. Dytman says computers are the bedrock of any physics program, so he knew he had to do something. That started a team effort in the Pitt Physics department (thanks Gracie and Jeremy!) that resulted in the collection, refurbishment, and donation of 31 newer computers and two servers to the Universite D'Antananarivo . We were there Thursday when the gear was loaded on a truck and sent off on 9-thousand mile trek:

Dytman was invited to Madagascar by a graduate student he had mentored here in the United States. He found the effort to send computers to that country harder than it should have been, between figuring out how to get them there and cutting through customs red tape.

"The disparity is just shocking." Dr. Steven Dytman

Now retired, he's not sure he'll do this again. But he's hoping other universities and companies will be inspired by this story enough to consider donating their gently-used computers to third world universities that desperately need them.

Whether it's computers or something else, Dytman gets passionate when he emphasizes something we can all learn from: items we non-chalantly throw away could be life-changing for someone else , just like his computers. "There will be a few hundred students who will have opportunities that they did not have before."

The computers shipped Thursday should arrive in Madagascar in September.

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