Tux as a beacon of hope and freedom

Welcome to America: Here's your Linux computer

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At my public library job, I run into people from all walks of life.

Recently a mother walked into the computer center where I work and commented, "I just came down down to the library to see what kind of learning resources there are down here." I gave the mom a quick tour of the 28 public Linux stations our library offers for free seven days a week. As a casual afterthought, the mom says, "By the way, here are my two kids. I adopted them two weeks ago." Standing before me were two beautiful children, ages 12 and 8, looking slightly scared but also curious at their new surroundings.

"They don't speak much English yet," the mom added, "but maybe the public library will be a useful resource for them." I replied, "Do bring them by here regularly. If they are interested in self-advancing their learning, the public library is the perfect place for them to do that." I then inquired, "Do your kids have their own computer at home?" Mom replied, "No, they currently borrow my laptop, which is not such an ideal situation." I countered, "Tell them they're getting their own donated desktop computer on Monday next week. I'll prepare it for them over the weekend."

Mom translated my words into Spanish and the kids suddenly looked a lot less scared. Looking into the 12-year-old girl's eyes, I could see myself as a 12-year-old, coming to the United States as an immigrant in 1973. I, too, was scared. Strangers welcomed me and my family. Neighbors loaned and gave my family needed items. Within the first month, I began feeling comfortable in my new country.

So, the following Monday I delivered a lovely Core2Duo desktop computer system with Linux Mint 17.1 XFCE installed. This computer was recently surplussed from the public library where I work. Installed on the computer was:

  • LibreOffice, for writing and documenting
  • Klavaro, a touch-typing tutor
  • TuxPaint, a painting program for kids
  • Scratch, to learn computer programming
  • TeamViewer, so I can volunteer to remotely support this computer

In 10 years time, these kids and their mom may well remember that first Linux computer the family received. Tux was there, as I see it, waiting to welcome these youth to their new country. Without Linux, that surplussed computer might have gotten trashed. Now that computer will get two, four, or maybe even six more years use from students who really value what it has to offer them.

Whomever starts exploring Linux gets a new taste of freedom. If you're a recent immigrant to the United States, freedom of all kinds tastes sweet. Sure, a new computer may look a little different than computers they've used in the past, but they'll adapt quickly to it.

For this family, I'm in touch with their mom via email so she can easily send me questions about their donated computer. In time, the youth themselves will be able to send me emailed questions, or stop by the public library to ask me questions in person. To me, Linux is all about digital inclusion and a more inclusive future is exactly what our world needs.


About the author

Phil Shapiro - Phil Shapiro has been an educator, teaching students from pre-school to graduate school for the past 30 years. He currently works at a public library in the Washington, DC area, helping youth and adults use 27 Linux stations. Between 2007 and 2012, he blogged for PC World magazine on various technology topics and currently writes for Ars Technica, MAKE magazine, FOSS Force, TechSoup for Libraries, and Opensource.com. Visit him at his...