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Monday, March 14,2011

Students collect cell phones to help Congo

By Natalie Knoth
The OU student group Bobcats for a Conflict-Free Campus is collecting old cell phones and PDAs in collection boxes across campus to raise money for Project Congo, a nonprofit founded by OU alum Sylvia Esser-Gleason that provides medical assistance to people on both sides of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A rally and 5K run/walk will take place April 9 in Dayton to raise money for the group.

Since the conflict erupted in 1994, more than 6 million people have died in the eastern Congo, said Esser-Gleason, adding that the DRC is considered the rape capital of the world.

“Women are brutalized because it unravels society,” Esser-Gleason explained, adding that women are integral to the functioning of the household and agricultural work. “It controls women in that they’re afraid to go outside. It’s just brutal.” Starvation, disease and the exploitation of children are also rampant.

From March 5 to April 5, Bobcats for a Conflict-Free Campus is collecting cell phones to be recycled by an organization that pays $3 to $4 for each device, with the funds then donated to Project Congo, said OU senior MaryBeth Bognar, who is heading the drive. Phones will also be collected at the rally.

“I feel it’s a doable cause because students often don’t have money, but if they have a cell phone lying around, they can donate it,” said Bognar, adding that students can learn more by visiting the Facebook group “Cell Phone Collection Drive!”

Collection boxes are located at Donkey Coffee, Bagel Street Deli, the Honors Tutorial College common room, Court Street Coffee, Yamada International House, Alden Library, Goodfellas, Chubb Hall and the Read Hall lobby, according to the Facebook group. More locations may be added soon.

Also helping with the project is OU grad student Patrick Litanga, who experienced the Congolese-Rwandan war firsthand; his mother was killed in the conflict. (Last year at UCM he spoke about his experiences.)

“To me, it’s a humanitarian crisis,” said Litanga, who is pursuing a master’s in African Studies and another in comparative politics. “It’s a place that’s technically been in conflict since 1996, but really 1994 when they had a flood of refugees and genocide.”

Ellie Hamrick, an OU sophomore and founder of the university’s Conflict-Free Campus, has been working to persuade OU administrators to purchase only those electronics than are made with conflict-free minerals. She will be attending a conference about conflict resolution at Stanford University, which is the first university to “go conflict-free,” according to the Project Congo website.

In October, OU Student Senate passed a resolution pledging its support for conflict-free technology, and since then Hamrick has been trying to get the support of the Board of Trustees.

“We’re run into a little trouble with that because of all the time spent on the budget,” Hamrick said. “We haven’t experienced any opposition per se, but there’s just not enough time.”

Still, Hamrick said she is confident that strides will be made at the administrative level and that students will be actively involved in the cell-phone drive.

“We’re really optimistic with the response we’ve got. We’re heard of people who have four to five old cell phones at home,” she said, adding that Conflict-Free Campus is always looking for new students to join.

Litanga said students will be helping two important causes by donating cell phones.

“It’s combining recycling and fundraising. It’s a good package,” Litanga said, adding that the timing is also convenient. “The other good thing is we decided to start it before break so people can go home and find their old dusty cell phone…You know the cell phone lingering somewhere under your bed? You can donate it!”


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I found two old cell phones in drawers that I will donate tomorrow.  Athens News, thank you for publishing this important story. I'd love too see more like it and a follow up about OU's response.  I encourage OU to be a leader and commit to a Conflict-Free purchasing policy.  I now know to look into manufacturers' commitments to creating products with conflict-free minerals before I make my purchases.  Your Facebook page (Bobcats for a Conflict-Free Campus) is very informative, Ms. Hamrick.  Thanks, especially,  for the link to manufacturers that are making strides in their level of commitment to using minerals that are conflict-free.