In Ecuador, a new learning centre combines garbage and gigabytes

UNHCR and the municipal authorities in Esmeraldas open a computer centre and digital library in a building made of recycled plastic bottles.

The UNHCR-funded computer centre in northern Ecuador was built using tens of thousands of recycled plastic bottles.   © UNHCR/A. Escalante

ESMERALDAS, Ecuador, February 11 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency and municipal authorities in this city in northern Ecuador city have opened a computer centre and digital library in a building made from concrete and more than 55,000 recycled plastic bottles.

Ernesto Estupiñan Quintero, the mayor of Esmeraldas, and UNHCR Representative John Fredrikson opened the Adalberto Ortiz Quiñónez Library - named after a local writer - and said it would promote peaceful co-existence between refugees in the city, which lies close to the border with Colombia.

Government officials, refugees and the local community came together to agree on the modern design, and unusual materials, of the building. The centre incorporates more than 55,000 sand-filled plastic bottles laid in concrete to create solid walls. The bottles were collected by schoolchildren, locals and refugees.

UNHCR funded construction of the library, which lies on land donated by the mayor. It contains books, digital material, reading areas, a screening room, meeting rooms and 120 computers that were donated by UNHCR corporate partner, Hewlett Packard (HP). The donation supported the refugee agency's Community Technology Access programme, which provides forcibly displaced people and host communities in 22 countries with access to computers.

Hewlett Packard also donated US$50,000 to connect the library to four other computer centres in Esmeraldas province, which hosts thousands of refugees who have fled violence or persecution across the border in southern Colombia.

"The library demonstrates what the refugee and local community can achieve," said Fredrikson, who attended the January 31 opening ceremony. He explained that the library was also built to provide a valuable resource for the inhabitants of Esmeraldas and to promote recycling.

Old plastic bottles are used as a building material at the centre which will serve as communications hub for both refugees and the local community.   © UNHCR/B.Baloch

Mayor Estupiñan added that UNHCR and the municipality "have planned this initiative in a manner that will stimulate the development of the city and the peaceful relations between refugees and the local population."

The library's CTA centre, meanwhile, will help users study, set up businesses and find employment. Since 2008, the CTA programme, which provides access to information and communication technologies, has been rolled out to 22 countries, with 32 centres now fully operational.

In the coming year, technical training will be provided in the library on web development and e-commerce, with funding provided by the European Union.

The UNHCR office in Esmeraldas monitors refugees while providing assistance to the most vulnerable. The government estimates that about 1,100 Colombians flee to Esmeraldas every month, but not all of them register with the authorities.

Ecuador hosts more than 55,600 registered refugees.

By Oscar Sanchez Piñeiro in Esmeraldas, Ecuador