AFP - Estonian web gurus devise country clean-up plan



Two Estonian Internet entrepreneurs who used cutting-edge software and legions of volunteers to literally clean up their country want to offer the same service to the rest of the world.

Ahti Heinla is one of the moving forces behind Skype, the Internet-based system for free phone calls. Rainer Nolvak founded Microlink, which specialises in supplying computer equipment to support students with disabilities.

When the two joined forces, they came up with a combination of computer technology and old-fashioned hard labour to enable a clean- up of all illegal rubbish dumps in the tiny Baltic state of Estonia. And now they want to apply the same technology to Europe, Asia and Africa.

Heinla and Nolvak used special software based on Google Earth, positioning software for mobile phones and mobile phones with GPS to map and photograph 11,000 illegal garbage dumps across all 45,227 square kilometers of Estonia.

Having located the dumps, their Let's Do It initiative (or Teeme Ara in Estonian) ended in a one-day clean-up on May 3. Fifty thousand volunteers turned out in the 1.3-million strong state to collect 10,000 tonnes of illegally dumped garbage.

"We now plan a next step - to share our experience with the international community, so that the software we created and our practice could be easily used to do the same in any other state by the volunteers who wish to clean nature," Rainer Nolvak told AFP.

"The five-minute demo in English that will show shortly the key elements used to launch and carry out the project will be ready by the end of June and will be made available at our website," he said.

"In addition, we will also write guidelines in English --'How to Clean a State'-- that will be made available at the same site," Nolvak added.

Having scored a success in diminutive Estonia, the software wizards have now set their sights on greater challenges.

"India has got our attention because it has the image of one of the most dirty states on earth," Nolvak told AFP of the 1.1-billion strong country which, like tiny Estonia, is rapidly emerging as a global IT leader.

"The idea to expand our cleaning software initiative to all Europe seems also very attractive but it all will take a lot of preparations that we are dealing with right now." Environmentalists from several states have already contacted the Estonians, asking them to share their IT-software to digitally map illegal waste in their countries. "We have been contacted by volunteers who would like to arrange something similar from many states, including Germany, Ireland, Canada and even Africa," Nolvak, who is also Chairman of the board  of Estonian Nature Fund, told AFP.

The dozen or so Estonians involved currently with the plan to expand the project beyond Estonia do job for free, saying their payment is the mere joy of doing something useful.

At 41, Nolvak is an inspiring example for the volunteers. After selling the Microlink computer company he established while still in his twenties, Nolvak moved to Florida, built a house and set about enjoying the rest of his life without having to worry about work or money ever again. "Getting very rich gave me the freedom that I value most," said Nolvak. "But to do just nothing turned out to be really hard. It's like becoming an alcoholic - it simply ruins your health. And then suddenly I felt in Florida that I am ridiculous." So he decided to return to Estonia and dedicate himself to a cause that could bring change and be useful to society.

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