From obsolete to essential

Outdated computers from St. Petersburg College find an important role in Guatemala.

Published March 30, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - The computers could have been stripped of their hazardous materials and hauled away, costing St. Petersburg College $25,000.

Instead, for about the same cost, they can be upgraded and shipped to Guatemala for a new life as crime fighters.

St. Petersburg College is donating 1,000 3- and 4-year-old computers to the Central American country, which is about the size of Tennessee. They will be used by the country's law enforcement personnel to help battle crime and reduce gang activity.

"It's a country with about 7,000 murders a year. They have about 40,000 gang members," said college president Carl Kuttler. "Drug traffic from South America goes through Guatemala. It's a lawless country in many ways."

Thursday evening, nearly two dozen SPC employees and students gathered at the Tarpon Springs campus to have a "wrapping party," complete with pizza and soda, to pack the computers for a truck trip to Miami. From there they will be shipped to Guatemala.

"They are excess computers that are too old for our students but for Guatemala's needs they are fine," Kuttler said. "This will allow the entire country to go online and share information and pictures of criminals. It will bring them into the 21st century."

Kuttler, who has visited Guatemala on several occasions and helped with relief efforts after Hurricane Stan in 2005, has already donated 40 of the college's older computers to the small town of Pastores.

He said a four-year program in law enforcement with an emphasis on gang activity is planned for the college.

When that happens, "We want to use Guatemala as a lab for our students," he said.

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com