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ASU alumnus creates non-profit to provide refugees free computers

PCs For Refugees is an Arizona non-profit organization with a mission to help refugees relocating to Phoenix.

Riad Sbai, ASU alum and founder and president of PCs for Refugees, shows a family how to use new programs on their donated computer.

Riad Sbai, ASU alum and founder and president of PCs for Refugees, shows a family how to use new programs on their donated computer.

While Syria is facing a civil war halfway across the world, an ASU alumnus and a few Phoenix residents created a non-profit to provide a "candle of hope" for refugees.

PCs for Refugees provides free laptop and desktop computers to refugee families living in Arizona.

Ten months ago Riad Sbai, the founder and president of PCs for Refugees and an ASU alumnus, said he heard about refugees trickling into the Phoenix area, and began visiting the different families.

Sbai said he noticed almost immediately that none of these families had a computer, and he knew that was going to be a huge limitation in their lives.

As a Syrian-American with family members living as refugees, Sbai said he always followed the Syria crisis very closely, but he was unsure of how he could help.

“The most difficult part was being so far away and feeling helpless,” Sbai said.

He said he saw this as the perfect opportunity to help, and since starting the non-profit, this organization has helped 100 families, totaling about 600 people. 

“The war has been going on for five years, and these families have been fleeing place to place,” Sbai said. “School unfortunately is not the biggest priority when you’re in that situation.”

That is where the idea of refurbishing old computers and packing them with educational programs was born.

Sbai said the organization's main goals with the computers are to help increase English skills, supplement education, teach job creation skills, and improve digital skills.

Sbai said he has witnessed the determination of the refugees he's worked with, and said he's watched as they used their computer skills to pursue different jobs, practice their English, and to further their education.

“It is kind of hard not to fall in love, not to call them, and to grow closer to these families as the time goes on,” Sbai said. “It is really rewarding.”

Abdul Rahman Bayazid, an ASU health sciences sophomore and PCs for Refugees team member, lived in Damascus for 10 years, and now helps with the communication side of the organization.

“I feel that I have to give back to my people,” Bayazid said. “That’s why I do this.”

Bayazid met Sbai through a mutual friend and together, they began building PCs for Refugees.

Bayazid also has family members living as refugees and has lost loved ones in Syria.

“This is a human cause,” Bayazid said. “It’s very, very sad. Almost every single family in Syria has been affected by this war.”

Bayazid said the team is hoping to set up a club through ASU in the near future. The organization has already expanded in Arizona to Tucson and recently began a chapter in Pennsylvania. 

Louis Ship, a member of the PCs for Refugees team, said he learned about this organization through ASU’s Reddit.

“I had this idea that there’s got to be people here from these war-torn regions, but I never had the connections to do anything about it,” Ship said.

Ship said he is more of a background guy, and he works with a lot of the different computers.

“I think the difference between this organization and other organizations is that we want to provide a means for them to help themselves,” Ship said.

While the organization was started after the Syrian refugee crisis, Ship said the program is helping refugees from all over the world. 

Ship said that even if the political climate is hostile, he has noticed that local feelings towards refugees are really positive for the most part.

Sbai said that despite the political climate and potential government roadblocks, the organization wants to continue to help the refugees.

"We just want to be there to support them," Sbai said. "We want them to succeed, and we want them to provide them with the tools, the opportunity and the resources to succeed in the digital age."

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