Getting rid of your old cell phone can be a problem. What to do with it? Put it in a back closet, the basement, or take it to a special public trash bin set up for such electronic materials. But, one Nigerian-born businessman in Britain has a different idea and his charity, "Recycling 4 Africa" counts on discarded old phones to help Africa. Mandy Clark reports from Britain's seaside city of Brighton.
Ambrose Harcourt has made it. He arrived in Britain alone, nearly 40 years ago as a high school student and now runs three companies -- involving public relations, events organizing and wedding planning.
But when he returned to his native Nigeria a few years ago to a hero's welcome, he says he realized he needed to give something back."I felt guilty in many, many ways. They were treating me like a big hero, but in my heart of hearts I really hadn't done anything for them," says Harcourt, founder of Recycling 4 Africa.
Harcourt saw that the country's health-care system was stretched to the limit. He had just inherited a piece of land in Nigeria and an idea took shape -- he thought it would be the perfect place for a hospital.
Harcourt says he wants to start construction in 2010 and needs $2 million to build it. But Harcourt decided to not simply ask for donations. Instead, he founded Recycling 4 Africa, a charity that does not raise funds, but phones. Once a month he collects unwanted cell phones, chargers and batteries from local stores in Brighton. The large haul is helped by Britons' love affair with their phones and their tendency to upgrade them.
Harcourt also set up a workshop in Lagos to turn these used phones into jobs, skills and profit.
"I've got two or three people who work in the center. They have recruited a few other people, shown them new skills so they have required new skills from working at our Recycling 4 Africa workshops," he said.
Back in Brighton, the community has come together to help the charity. Harcourt's colleagues built more collection boxes and his artist neighbor, Julie Anne Gilbert, put her skills to use. She got Harcourt to pose for a painting, with nothing more than an old phone.
She wanted to raise the charity's profile, a few eyebrows and maybe a little cash. She says, "If you sell this, if someone wants a nice happy picture of Ambrose on their wall, that will give money direct to charity."
Harcourt says he does not mind what people think as long as it will help reach his dream of a hospital for local Nigerians. "In this country, you can go to the pharmacy and get medicine. It's not so easy over there and they have to go miles and sometimes they have to live without. If we can help them survive a bit longer and bring a bit of happiness to their lives, it will be worthwhile," he said.
Building a lifeline with phone links may be unconventional, but Ambrose Harcourt thinks it might just work.