Bakul Aims To Bridge Digital Divide & Hand Phones/Laptops To Needy Kids

Bhubaneswar: If you are planning to chuck that smartphone or some other digital device you think is past its prime, think of placing it in a pair of needy hands. It would be of immense help for a school-going child from marginalized background, who has been left in the lurch due to the lack of a device and internet access amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Online classes have become a huge challenge during the lockdown period as these children are unable to take these live lessons or have to rely on somebody’s generosity.

To bridge this digital divide, city NGO Bakul Foundation has stepped in to help procure used and refurbished laptops, smartphones and other devices that can aid education.

“We have been running a social media campaign to reach out to individuals with a spare but functional smartphone or a digital device such as tablet or laptop to donate to Bakul, which can be given to children in need for online classes. The donors, however, would have to send it to our Bakul Library, Bhubaneswar,” said Sujit Mahapatra, CEO of Bakul Foundation.

The NGO has been assessing requirements of children. In its first leg of intervention, the foundation isn’t focussing on the poor students in hinterlands, but in slums close to urbanised sections of the city with internet connectivity and an assurance of availability of an internet pack for online classes.

“We found that even if there was a smartphone in the family, it may be used by the parents or elder siblings for income generation or other activities and may not be available for children for their studies,” said Sujit.

Bakul Foundation has already identified some slum children who come to Bakul Libraries in Bhubaneswar, children in shelter homes in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack where the volunteers have been working, and slums in Paradip where a partner NGO is present.

Despite the huge and growing reliance on digital services, covering everything from online shopping to e-learning for children, only about 56 per cent of children have access to a smartphone, suggests a study ‘Scenario amidst COVID-19 — Onground Situations and Possible Solutions’, informed Sujit.

“We have already identified a requirement of 100 smartphones with the hope that for most of the phones, a few other children can share the same phone. Once this is mobilized, distributed and monitored to ensure impact, we will go to the second phase of the intervention,” he added.

The drive is the brainchild of biotech entrepreneur Sumona, who approached Bakul to run it because the foundation has demonstrated the power of small contributions with hundreds of people contributing books, clothes and toys over the years.

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