President Higgins praises use of recycled computers to aid children

Camara ‘has changed the lives’ of two million people in Africa, the Caribbean and Ireland

President Michael D Higgins, and his wife, Sabina, with Caitlyn Melia and Jake Anderson, students at St Patrick’s national school in Chapelizod, John Fitzsimons of Camara and Edel Gormley, acting principal of the school. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

As President Michael D Higgins walked through the square schoolroom in St Patrick's national school in Dublin's Chapelizod, Caitlyn Melia (9) was writing an essay on her computer entitled "The President's Visit".

"Well, it's about him coming," she explained to Sabina Higgins who was peering over her shoulder.

Her fourth class teacher, Jason Keelan, told the President that when the laptops being used by the pupils first arrived, “the children tried to press the screens” in a sign of their familiarity with smartphones and tablets.

Mr Higgins was visiting the school, one of those closest to his home in the Phoenix Park, to mark the work of Camara Education, a charity that has recycled and distributed thousands of computers to help people from disadvantaged communities around the world to learn.


As the President talked to the boys and girls sitting before their laptops at tables Maud McMenamin (9) sat solitary in front of laptop 99,999. Beside her were laptops 100,000 and 100,001.

Conor Carney (9) had a Late Late Show clip of an interview with the President running on his computer. As Mr Higgins gazed over the child's shoulder, Ryan Tubridy asked onscreen if Mr Higgins would be running for the Áras again?

“Very good,” said President Higgins to the seated schoolchildren.

As at last he and Ms Higgins came to Maud, she pointed to Áras an Uachtaráin on her laptop and said, helpfully, “That’s your house” as the smiling public couple stared, in momentary wonder. Indeed it was.

‘Visiting the neighbours’

Later as the pupils assembled in the school hall, Mr Higgins said “it was always a special pleasure visiting the neighbours”.

He was sure the pupils were “very excited to be taking part in this significant event”, the turning on of Camara Education’s 100,000th computer.

Camara, he explained, had “so far, changed the lives of over two million people in Africa, the Caribbean and Ireland”.

It was "remarkable to think", he said, that so much that was positive, "from Ireland to Sub-Saharan Africa to Jamaica to Haiti" was down to one man with "a great idea".

He told the boys and girls how "12 years ago Cormac Lynch was in Ethiopia and was shocked at the poor conditions in the schools he saw there" and how he was told that what they needed most was computers.

Back in Ireland Mr Lynch began collecting unwanted and outdated computers. He recycled and updated them, and gave “to those schoolchildren in Ethiopia opportunities, hope and a better future”, the President said.

Simple idea

From “that simple, but very important idea, Camara grew”, the President said. Camara chief executive John Fitzsimons described its patron, Mr Higgins, as “a kindred spirit”.

Camara’s immediate ambition was to supply “a further 30,000 Ethiopian schools over the next three years, where 500,000 children were waiting”, he said. It also hoped to increase to five million the number of children they would help with computers by 2020.

In Ireland also it has supplied computers to 44 schools and youth centres, to date, including “our nearest school” St Patrick’s in Chapelizod, he said.

Camara is based across the road from St Patrick’s and gratefully receives unwanted computers from individuals or businesses for recycling and distribution in Ireland and internationally. Details at

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times