Emmabuntüs in the friendly sticks

Hello Stéphane,
The Emmabuntüs collective follows with great interest your actions in the North of France and we would like to get to know you better through this interview, if you agree.

– Can you say a few personal words about ‘Les Bricos du Cœur¹ association, where I believe you are a volunteer?

Not quite a volunteer, but I’ll tell you this little story: Working for more than twenty years in a large Home Improvement/Do-It-Yourself company with a green logo located in the Hauts-de-France [Heights of France] region, we had, around year 2010, the chance to have a management willing to listen, support and federate ideas of personal development. This is how carpooling projects, visits to places, film screenings related to housing, reconditioning of computer equipment and especially the organization of a renovation site were able to emerge. It is from this last action that was born the collective of the ‘Bricos du Cœur’ which continues to live now as an association 1901, recognized of general interest, which federates many volunteers and has already organized more than 460 solidarity work-camps and several hundreds in the World!

– What is the link between ‘Les Bricos du Cœur’ and the GiveIT project?

The GiveIT version of the Emmabuntüs refurbishing key

Let’s talk about GiveIT first: GiveIT is also an emergence of these ‘intrapreneurship’ projects. The company had and still has a significant organic growth and was faced with the question of what to do with some of the computer equipment that had served well but was no longer able to meet the current user requirements. The office automation department convinced the management that part of the equipment could be reconditioned and that, b y taking this way, we could create a link between the business world and civil life, which fits perfectly the framework of a CSR policy (Corporate Social Responsibility).

We have linked up with the ‘Bricos du Cœur’ because during the solidarity work-camp activities, some structures are in need of computer equipment and this is where GiveIT fullfills the gap.

Donation by ‘Les Bricos du Cœur’ and GiveIT of a laptop running Emmabuntüs

What was your personal journey to end up refurbishing old computers?

My involvement in the associative and school world was a vector: I approached the office automation department of my company to respond to some equipment requests from the children’s school at the time. The GiveIT action had just been launched, my knowledge in free computing and in Linux distributions was like an evidence when it was a question of reconditioning the material quickly and easily. I installed a few workstations with a CD-ROM, and that’s how the adventure started in late 2013.

– What is the environment or population you are specifically targeting?

We are looking above all at creating links with our employees: we have a limited number of laptops given up by the company and we organize 3 to 4 reconditioning sessions per year. Another part is donated to Emmaüs Connect.

Via the company’s social network we announce and launch “install parties”: 4 to 5 colleagues maximum come on their free time, usually at lunchtime, and we install, via USB keys, a slightly modified Emmabuntüs distribution with different splash screen and wallpaper.

‘Bricos du Cœur’ – GiveIT version of a laptop running Emmabuntüs

These “install parties” are an opportunity to popularize the world of Open Source with its plethora of libre software, to explain that the material has a second life and that it could be the same for the personal computers of the employees. We debrief on the donations made since the last install party and encourage colleagues to put us in touch with an association holder.

Association representatives are invited to pick up the equipment and must sign an agreement with our company. A release form is also attached to justify the removal of the equipment from our assets

We accept the requests of structures which adopt the leitmotiv of ‘Les Bricos du Cœur’, that is people who help people[Fr] and which have a relationship with the do-it-yourself or the habitat but that can also go exceptionally towards a donation to a retirement home, to voluntary associations of assistance to the wounded, to hospitals, schools middle of nowhere, etc…

Thus, since 2013, more than fifty collaborators have helped us in this action, more than 650 computers have been remastered and 86 associations have already received equipment, including YovoTogo in 2020 [Fr].

– In which circumstances did you get in touch with the Emmabuntüs collective?

Some locations where GiveIT made donations

We were doing our refurbishments with Linux Mint whose “Look & Feel” satisfied us fully, but we were still looking for a variety of installations. My colleague had heard about a sustainable distribution around Emmaüs, and after some research it turned out to be Emmabuntüs, and we were immediately excited by the dynamics of this distribution and started using it to refurbish our hardware: both desktops and laptops.

In 2020 we were faced with a strong demand and we had older equipment that we could not envision to recondition ourselves due to lack of time. We then discovered a link between Emmabuntüs and a French association working for North Togo. We contacted the team, via their website, and they put us in touch with Claude, the president of YovoTogo [Fr]. He drove up to the North to get the batch and that’s how I discovered a little more about the collective.

What additions do you put into this distribution to make it even more attractive to your potential users?

We added almost nothing: the distribution is very pleasant to use, because it integrates natively a range of very democratized software (Free Office / Firefox browser / Gimp / Gcompris / …).

The only departure from free software is the addition of a Zoom client following the periods of confinement where the demand for videoconferencing was quite high.

We put on the desktop shortcuts to the most used software and we ask after each donation to give us some feedback; many quote LibreOffice.

How long have you been into computers in general, and GNU/Linux in particular?

Being more than 50 years old, I have always been involved in the computer world; I remember very well my Sony MSX or my PC i386 DX33 which made me desperate when, with each Windows version upgrade, I had to reinvest: change the video card, update the memory or change the processor when the socket on the motherboard allowed it.

So I turned to less greedy operating systems (Linux) and that’s where I progressively discovered a more “free” and community oriented world which corresponded to my state of mind.

For your information, my professional computer uses a Ubuntu 20.04 distribution which fulfills correctly all the needs of software development (Java / Python), instant communication (Signal / Discord) and multimedia (OBS / Audacity / VLC / KdenLive). Of course it is not a very recent distribution, nor the most geeky one, but this “Long Term Support” version is imposed for reasons of park management.

On the other hand, there is still somewhere at home, in a closet, a computer running Windows 10 that we take out from time to time …

I believe you used the Emmabuntüs refurbishing key method. Did you also customize it for your specific needs?

Yes, but actually very little, just to improve the Bash scripts for managing SSDs in NVMe format when installing Emmabuntüs. This information was communicated to the collective and the scripts of the reuse key were adapted very quickly. Proof that the community is alive and reactive.

What does this refurbishing key bring you?

A proven methodology that saves us a lot of time. During our install parties, which last for a maximum of one hour with between 3 and 5 people, we pack a little more than 20 laptops and it’s great to be able to respond quickly to donation requests.

Install party at lunchtime, organized by ‘Les Bricos du Cœur’ and GiveIT

Do you use this method with beginners in reconditioning?

Yes, absolutely. We run sessions with non computer-savvy people and they are surprised that we can recondition a machine so easily. Provided that a small check is made first in the Bios that I personally take care of (disabling the Secure bootoption).

– A question I forgot to ask you?

No … Oh yes, maybe: When will we have a physical meeting with all these nice people around Emmabuntüs, so that we can put faces in front of your names!

Note 1 : ‘Les Bricos du Cœur’  could be translated by ‘The Hearty Tinkerers’