Hoosiers across the state have stepped up to help the 6,600+ Afghan refugees who have been given temporary housing at Camp Atterbury south of Indianapolis, donating basic household items, food, and toys for the children.

#OperationAlliesWelcome is a new and more focused effort spearheaded by Rupal Thanawala in partnership with the Indianapolis chapter of Black Data Professional Association (BDPA), Casted, Society for Information Management Indianapolis Chapter and TechPoint Foundation for Youth. It’s focused on providing a computer lab for the more than 3,000 refugees under the age of 18.

Rupal is the BDPA’s vice president of strategic partnership and a tireless tech community networker.

“BDPA’s vision is to build a pipeline of diverse professionals and aspiring students in the STEM and digital technology fields and we are very excited to provide this program for our friends from Afghanistan who have worked side-by-side with our troops and supported our mission for years,” she said. “We’re hoping that our tech community can donate up to 50 laptops and appropriate educational software so we could make the resources available much like a library to any of the refugees.”

Because volunteers are not currently allowed to interact with the refugees, Rupal said she’s hoping to make use of remote technology as well.

“We’d also like to set up virtual e-learning classrooms with content suitable from kindergarten to high school with lab time set aside for  STEM programs.”

Rupal, has been traveling often to Camp Atterbury, spoken with leaders there to learn how best the community can help, and said officials there will organize a space and process for the computer lab to be made available.

“Our job is to supply the resource center and enable the refugees to find ways to be productive as they get settled in this country,” she said. 

Drop-off points for the laptop and iPads with chargers will be at Casted’s office, 1032 E. Washington Street, Suite B, in Indianapolis from 4 to 6 p.m. today and Thursday and also on October 5 and 7. If you’re interested in learning more about the tech-focused drive, contact Rupal at rthanawala@yahoo.com.

Rupal said the computer lab effort isn’t meant to diminish other donation drives, which are very important as many of the refugees were able to bring very few of their own personal belongings with them as they fled Taliban rule.

For those who can’t contribute to the tech-drive but want to help in other ways, nine Indiana National Guard armories are serving as donation sites for the public to offer clothes or other donations in partnership with Team Rubicon and the U.S. Department of Defense. That team is making daily trips to Camp Atterbury to deliver the donations.

Since the initial outreach to help refugees in Indiana, Rupal has been asked by Homeland Security to lead efforts for refugees being housed at U.S. military bases in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Virginia and New Mexico. Rupal has begun teaching computer literacy classes at Camp Atterbury as she continues to collect donations from Indiana tech companies and organizations including the Asian American AllianceBDPA IndianapolisInfrastructure and Energy Alternatives, Inc.Republic Airways ,TechPoint,  Society for Information Managementnetlogx,  TechPoint Foundation for Youth and the Bartholomew County Public Library.