Firms' trash becomes treasure for students Electronic gear gets new home in Peru


The Global Concerns Committee of St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg has turned industrial cast-offs into learning treasures for impoverished students in Peru.

The items, which U.S. companies would have stored or discarded, have found new life and use in an electronics training center for young adults outside Lima.

When Brother Phil Melcher, director of the school, visited the South Carroll parish in June, he said he needed more equipment.

"We felt inspired by Brother Phil and his energy at taking on this task," said Dick H. Racusen.

Stephen F. Waagbo and other committee members launched a letter drive that generated donations of slightly used or outdated equipment from several companies. "What they were throwing out was just what Brother Phil needed," he said.

In about two months, the attic at St. Joseph's parish center was full of personal computers, screens and keyboards. One company donated oscilloscopes, useful in studying radio technology.

"None of the donated stuff was junk," said Mr. Racusen, a biology teacher at the University of Maryland College Park, who handled the donations.

"Some IBM PCs were probably 10 years old, but they just kept going and going."

The collection drive finished with 800 pounds of refurbished technology crated for shipment. The packing -- sports uniforms from Mount Hebron High -- was one more donation the Peruvian parish will recycle.

"Here, so much high-tech stuff gets out of date so fast. What is valueless here makes useful training in Third World countries," said Mr. Racusen.

Mr. Waagbo said it would be difficult to put a dollar value on the shipment. "But in a country where people can't get any of these things, it is invaluable," he said.

Even the U.S. Navy joined the effort, before the equipment could gather dust in St. Joseph's attic. Mr. Waagbo's brother, a Naval Reserve pilot, offered a transportation solution. Lt. Cmdr. David Waagbo was scheduled to fly in maneuvers with the Peruvian Navy.

"The Navy is receptive to humanitarian projects, and it just all came together," said Steve Waagbo. "We could get this all done with minimal bureaucracy."

The group received approval for the shipment from the Peruvian consulate in Miami.

The crates, spray-painted red for easy recognition, filled Mr. Waagbo's pickup and an attached trailer. He and his brother drove the shipment to the Navy airport in Willow Grove, Pa., where the crew found room on the plane for nearly all of it.

Once in Peru, the crew "caught the spirit," said Steve Waagbo. They delivered the equipment and helped Brother Phil set it up.

"They even exchanged phone numbers with the students," he said.

Another parishioner, Richard C. Horwitt of Eldersburg, arrived in Lima the same day as the shipment.

"I was excited to see the supplies unloaded," he said. "It was a great way to start my visit."

After several trips working with Brother Phil, he said, he can attest to Peruvian ingenuity "in a most positive way."

"These people are smart, but they live in poverty," he said. "They have learned to make junk work. You should see their cars."

Several years ago, Mr. Melcher, a Marianist missionary brother, started the electronics school at Mary Mother of the Redeemer parish near Lima. He hoped to teach the basics of the electrical trade. He soon found his students eager to broaden their skills.

"The school is giving them useful skills and brightening their employment future," said Mr. Horwitt. "We reached out in faith to them and they definitely appreciate it."

The first letter off Brother Phil's new printer was a thank-you to Dave Waagbo and his crew.

"The combination of your mission's help and your brother's work a concrete testimony to generosity that will be very beneficial for the youth in this area," he wrote.

The committee has not stopped its work. Members are building another shipment and looking for ways to get it to Peru.

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