At the start of the pandemic in 2020, then-high school freshman Sadab Sharif had to share just one computer with his four siblings.
“If we only have one computer, then only one person can do a class. What do the other people have to do in order to get to their online class?” Sharif, who is now a rising senior, recalls. “When you don’t have technology, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s definitely really hard to pursue an education.”
Sharif’s family is one of 50 who came to CIANA to receive a free desktop computer last week, courtesy of Technology for Families in Need (TechFIN), a company dedicated to providing low-income families and communities with the latest technological devices.
Although each recipient will benefit from their computer in their own way, all of our clients expect the same overall benefit: increased access to technology that will not only ease the burden of not having enough devices in their home, like in Sharif’s family, but expand their technological literacy overall.
Each PC came equipped with a monitor, mouse, and keyboard, as well as a manual with step-by-step directions from TechFIN to make setting up the computer as simple as possible.
All computer recipients are currently enrolled in one or more of CIANA’s virtual programs; Sharif’s mother Habiba attends CIANA’s adult English classes. Meanwhile, Md. Pablon is a rising eighth grader currently participating in CIANA’s Virtual Summer Camp.
While Md. already has his own computer, its slow speed and connectivity issues prevent him from being able to fully participate, or even fully use the computer in general and switch between tabs. That’s why he is excited to receive his new computer.
“Doing things online while in the online meeting would have been hard with my older computer and with the new one is going to be a lot easier,” Md. says. “While in the meeting I’ll be able to do things outside of the meeting, like going to another website and working there.”
Mohammed Ibrahim, a fellow middle schooler and a long-time CIANA tutoring student, has also run into issues due to outdated technology. “His laptop randomly just crashed, had a blue screen, had a lot of stuff happening to it,” his brother told us. Mohammed plans to put his new computer to a number of uses: “School, games, almost everything.”
CIANA’s own staff has difficulties effectively serving clients who are lacking in technological access.
Case Manager Rownoka Ashkhan has been working with a client on the same application for nearly two months, completely over the phone. The client is hard of hearing, which makes it difficult to make any progress.
“Once she gets this computer it’ll be much easier for me to communicate with her and get her the things she needs,” explains Ashakhan. “We’ll be able to video chat, I’ll be able to share my screen and show her the questions I’m answering.”
In an increasingly digital world, people of all ages rely on technology for completing schoolwork, making doctor’s appointments, and paying bills. As the center of modern-day technology usage, computers are no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
“It’s becoming such a daily, every-minute-of-every-day thing,” explains Sophie Riina, CIANA’s Director of Educational Programs, who facilitated the PC delivery with TechFIN. “It’s a completely basic human right that should be considered like having running water, because we use it every day.
“You go to the doctor’s office and they put you up in front of a screen. If you’re not literate, if you’re not using a device at home, how are you going to know how to use these things? And nevermind the fact that some people are immigrants in this country and English is not their first language. That’s why digital literacy is a super important thing.”
For CIANA’s Founder and CEO, Emira Habiby Browne, helping clients access technology is an extension of CIANA’s overall mission to help immigrants feel more confident their new environment.
“Learning how to do all the little things that you have to do on the computer…really helps in terms of keeping up with the world, being confident wherever you go that you know how to use this digitally. I mean, it's our life now."
Digital literacy is key to navigating the world today. Younger clients especially understand the need for increased computer access, and already foresee the long-lasting benefits that their new PC will afford them.
“Being able to have access to a computer is probably one of the biggest and most important inventions of our generation,” Sharif continues. “Being able to have access to something that has so many opportunities and so many things to do is really powerful.”