When home-based learning was introduced during the circuit breaker period, there was an urgent need to ensure that students from low-income households could access working laptops.
While the Ministry of Education loaned out more than 12,000 laptops and tablets (as of April 15 2020) to students who did not have sufficient devices at home, other groups in the community stepped up as well.
One of these was Engineering Good – a non-profit committed to engineering solutions for the local community.
It started with an innocuous Facebook post appealing for donations of laptops for a beneficiary. Soon enough, replies started streaming in – tens, then hundreds – and the phone was ringing off the hook with requests and donations.
The Engineering Good team buckled down to cope with the demand.
20-year-old volunteer Darin Lobo, a diploma graduate in biomedical science and a self-taught engineer, was in the thick of it.
Engineering for the good of the community
Darin’s journey with engineering started when he was just 11 years old, after joining the maker community in Singapore. Through the community, he connected with like-minded individuals who were interested in building things, from websites to apps, with prototype tools like 3D printers, all in a Do-It-Yourself setting.
He slowly picked up electronics and engineering skills, learning from other members as he went along.
A friend then introduced him to Engineering Good, which started as a passion project to engineer solutions for the less fortunate. Some projects the organisation has worked on include low cost assistive switches for people with conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.
Then, the COVID-19 situation hit.
In order to stem the spread of the virus, home-based learning was introduced in all schools in Singapore.
The Engineering Good team stepped up to fill the need for laptops in the homes of students – particularly those from low-income housholds.
Thus the initiative Computers Against COVID was born.
Heart for hardware
Darin and team quickly set about repairing the donated computers: updating software, fixing hardware issues, installing the programmes required for home-based learning, and ensuring quality control.
The computers are then sent to the various beneficiaries through social workers, who assign them to those who need them the most.
The initial days were the most challenging for Darin. It was demoralising when multiple computers could not be fixed, and the mental exhaustion of doing repetitive tasks wore Darin out.
However, he soon learnt to pace himself and work sustainably. Futhermore, a helping hand was always near. When faced with a seemingly unsolvable problem, a WhatsApp message to the Engineering Good group would generate many ideas and solutions.
These past two months, Engineering Good has repaired and delivered over 2,000 computers.
100 volunteers, from different walks of life, undertake all manner of tasks from repairs to delivery and liaison with social workers.
“It's an extremely tiny sacrifice taken by me. If I spend just an hour fixing a computer, that computer may help improve the life of an individual or family for potentially years,” he adds.
“Initially, you're just repairing laptops, looking at pieces of hardware and you don't really think about the impact,” he says.
“But after that, a lot of people send us 'thank you' notes and pictures of themselves with their laptops. That's when you start seeing that there is actually a significant impact there.”
Inspired by maker community
Through his time in the maker community attending events, as well as volunteering with Engineering Good, Darin says that the community around him inspires and motivates him.
In the maker community, Darin has met “hundreds of people who are doing little things [to give back to the community] here and there”.
Asked about who he’s looked up to while serving the community, he quips that he has “too many role models” and has simply met “too many interesting people” to speak about in the span of an interview.
Of his experience working on Computers Against COVID, he says, “It is quite inspiring that so many people are taking time from their busy lives to work on this effort. It is also great that this effort fosters so much teamwork.”
Not stopping just yet
Engineering Good isn’t stopping there. They are now looking to turn Computers Against COVID from a spontaneous effort to something more continuous and sustainable.
In addition, they intend to educate people on how to repair computers, and to supply computers not just for home-based learning, but for all who need them.
Darin is not stopping either, despite confessing that he has “too many hobbies” and “multiple projects going on at the same time”. On top of his work with Engineering Good, he is also on standby as a COVID-19 swabber under MOH, while waiting to enlist in National Service.
Still, volunteering ranks high on his priorities. “It's quite hard to not be motivated when you can make such a difference with a relatively small amount of effort,” he says.
To other youths looking to give back to society, he urges, “Learn to both enjoy the task you are doing as well as the meaning behind it. It will serve to motivate you.”
This article is part of a series of stories of Singaporean youth who have come forward to help the community, during this fight against COVID-19.
Many have stepped up during this time to help SIngapore overcome COVID-19.
For more stories of youths who embody the #SGUnited spirit:
Find out how you can do your part for the community: https://www.sgunited.gov.sg/