Fishers woman collects computers for Afghan refugee teens


By Chris Bavender

A Fishers woman is making sure Afghan refugees at Camp Atterbury in southern Indiana have the tools they need for success in their new nation and has organized a donation campaign to set up a computer lab on site.

Rupal Thanawala, president of the Carmel-based Asian American Alliance, said 47 percent of the refugees are under the age of 18 and she wants to ensure their education isn’t left behind.

“For us, one of the things we really focus on is ‘classroom to boardroom,’ and we want to support diverse people and this fits into our ideology,” Thanawala said. “And, we wanted to do what we could to help these young kids from a different country who may be going through mental and emotional trauma.”

The idea started with a request for simple items: sidewalk chalk and crayons.

“Someone I was in touch with at Homeland Security said ‘can you get sidewalk chalk and crayons – these kids have nothing,’” she said. “That is a basic thing, but that does not help teenagers who are probably going to go straight to high school, so I thought what can I do for all age groups?”

Thanawala, vice president for Black Data Processing Associates Indianapolis, originally wanted to get 50 to 100 used laptops and iPads. But Hoosiers stepped up to help.

“I am so blessed so many people are coming forward. It shows the generosity of all our Hoosiers,” she said. “I just wanted to do it and see how it went, and I could not have even imagined.”

So many donations have poured in from individuals and corporations that Thanawala is now expanding the original plan, and through Homeland Security, she will be able to provide laptops and iPads to all the U.S. bases housing Afghan evacuees.

“This is the power of community. I would not want to take the credit,” she said. “It truly is a community project where everybody said, ‘How can we help you?’”

Thanawala is also collecting gently used ethnic clothing for Afghan women who prefer not to wear Western clothing.

To donate a used laptop or iPad, make sure the device has been wiped. Donations can be coordinated through Thanawala at [email protected].