Many people are not familiar with Coltan mining. Columbite-tantalite is a popular tantalum mineral that is mined in the Congo. It has become a vital component in creating stronger alloys with higher melting points. It is also being used in surgical steel and has very important applications in the healthcare industry because it is non-irritating to cellular tissue. Tantalum increases the index of refraction in glass. These are just a few of the more essential applications of this mineral.
Due to its versatility, numerous mining companies have increased their efforts to locate this substance and then build artisanal mines. In fact, these mines are springing up all over the Congo region. Though mining activities do bring jobs and money to the Congo area, they also damage the delicate eco-systems. Each time a new mine is built, surrounding flora and fauna are damaged or destroyed. As if that were not enough, the workers who come to work in these mines must be fed. With no stores nearby, they’re left to kill local wildlife for food.
This issue has negatively impacted the Grauer gorilla population. Today, miners are killing these beautiful animals for “bushmeat”. Miners are unaware and unconcerned about the declining population of this gorilla. Its population has fallen from 17,000 in 1995 to only 3,800 today. Hunters often kill magnificent elephants and chimpanzees for food as well. Though recent conservation efforts have made an impact, there’s so much more to be done.
This is where the third and fourth graders at North Haven Elementary School in Calgary came in. Once they heard about this situation, these elementary school students went to work to try and come up with some helpful solutions. One of their most successful projects to date has been collecting old cell phones, computers, tablets, and other unused electronic devices.
Frequently, people dispose of these outdated electronics by simply throwing them in the trash. This is not a good idea. It’s harmful to our environment and can damage local wildlife and waterways. Instead, the North Haven students formed a drive to collect as many of these old devices as possible. They were aided by a number of concerned businesses in the Calgary area, including GAM Tech.
GAM Tech provides managed IT services and computer support for a number of businesses in the area. Since they are a vital part of the community, they wanted to get involved in helping North Haven students. The GAM Tech team worked tirelessly in their collection efforts. They arranged for pickups and drop-offs for those who wanted to participate. They used their own phone number and email address to make it easier for people to drop off their unused electronics.
Once all these old phones and tablet computers were collected, the students thought about ways to create something memorable that would draw attention to the Coltan Mining tragedy. It was finally decided that these old electronics would be used to create a gorilla sculpture. The North Haven students spent many days and nights working on its design and GAM Tech helped along the way.
Finally, the gorilla structure was completed. The sculpture began as 12 pieces of wood held together by thick metal rods. The cell phones and other electronics were hot glued to the wood. Next, the students painted the wood black. The completed sculpture was quite impressive. It stands three feet high and is four feet wide. It is made up of over 475 phones and computers and weighs over a ton. The sculpture was first displayed at North Haven School and then was displayed at the Calgary Zoo.
This unique sculpture was created to raise awareness about the plight of the Grauer gorilla. It is also a reminder to dispose of old electronics in a responsible way. The students of North Haven, along with the employees at GAM Tech, are hoping to make a real and lasting difference in the world. They would like nothing better than to see these Coltan mining activities cease.
They understand the importance of these gorillas and know that without them, our world will be diminished. With their hard work and amazing efforts, there’s every reason to believe that the Grauer gorilla will not go extinct as some experts predict.
Because of the long history of questionable mining tactics in the Congo, there have been many efforts to curtail these unethical mining techniques and restore the region’s natural resources. Quite a bit of public attention has been brought to this situation over the years by others. One of the most notable was a movie called, “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo di Caprio. This movie showed just how corrupt and dangerous the mining of these diamonds had become. The diamonds were often sold to finance wars in Sierra Leone. After eleven years of war where thousands were killed, an unsettling peace ensued. However, the mining of these diamonds never stopped. They were simply too easy to find and too valuable.
Mining activities of any kind in areas like Sierra Leone or the Congo results in the destruction of the eco-system. Most environmental groups have worked to stop or at least curtail these practices.
The Calgary community believes that GAM Tech and the North Haven Elementary School have raised awareness about this difficult and complex problem. The students enjoyed this project and they learned that even kids can change the world. They are eager to find new projects like this to work on and are looking for reliable partners like GAM Tech to help them forge the way. These students and local businesses working together proved that we can all make a difference if we try.
North Haven Elementary School would like to thank all their helpers and supporters at GAM Tech for making this project a success.