Computer Lab Donated To Teenage Inmates

June 24, 2005

GOVERNMENT and private-sectorcommunity leaders who have joined forcesto create a new technology lab at theZurquí Juvenile Formation Center hopethey can arm the young inmates with jobskills and help them surmount the conditionsthat landed them in jail.The 36 teenagers ages 12-18 in theprison in Heredia, north of San José, areconvicted of brutal crimes such as murder,sexual assault and aggravated robbery, andare trying to turn their backs on their formerlifestyles through counseling and education.This week, the Ministry of Justiceinaugurated the lab, which features fivecomputers, five digital microscopes and adigital camera donated by high-tech firmIntel and teachers trained by the private,nonprofit Omar Dengo Foundation.After just 15 days of training, fiveteenagers, including the center’s only girl,navigated through Microsoft’s Powerpointprogram while a dozen prison guardslooked over their shoulders and patrolledoutside the classroom.“THE opportunity you have here isone that many youth outside don’t have,”Justice Minister Patricia Vega told theinmates seated in the center’s courtyard atthe lab’s official inauguration Wednesday.A17-year-old whose name is withheldto protect his identity told The Tico Timeshe has served 18 months in the center, convictedof murder and aggravated robbery.“It seems special – we can improve ourlives, our work, our studies,” he said. “I’dlike to learn to use a computer to be able tostudy and work in a private business.”THIS is Intel’s 20th such lab in CostaRica and the first in a prison. Since themultinational company opened a plant herein 1998, Costa Rica has been the base of asignificant amount of Intel’s manufacturingand technology development. Thecompany has given back at a rate of about$1 million per year in training projects,according to Intel’s academic managerMary Helen Vialas.This project “will help (the inmates)be able to express themselves and improvetheir self-esteem, to know they can managethis, learn and be creative,” Vialas toldThe Tico Times. “I hope it will have a hugeimpact on them.”The Omar Dengo Foundation hasworked for 18 years to improve teachingmethods and use of technology in Costa Rica.During most of that time it has searchedfor a project like this one, executive directorCleotilde Fonseca told The Tico Times.“WHAT is key is not the equipment,it’s the teachers,” she said. “We trainteachers and change their culture to helpthem work in more creative, flexible environments.”Addressing the inmates, Fonseca said,“I hope these computers help you createand express yourselves, and you can discoverwho you are – that you are good.”“This isn’t something we can do foryou,” she added. “We put it in yourhands. You have the ability, the creativityand the talent to take advantage of thisopportunity.”

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