In 2006, Jen Long joins a mission trip to Jinja, Uganda. She worked with a local organization, assisting with medical clinics and an orphan adoption program.
The photos and videos Jen brought back of Uganda children were powerful. Johnny Long (Jen’s husband) saw HIV+, malaria-stricken double-orphans living in extreme poverty but they were smiling, laughing, dancing and singing. They had Joy. Johnny, a “middle-class” professional hacker wanted for nothing but was often miserable and felt empty. He went to Uganda in 2007 with Jen to figure out what these kids had that he didn’t.
Johnny founded Hackers For Charity as a way to get hackers involved in the life-changing, fulfilling work of helping others. In 2009, Johnny, Jen and their three children moved to Uganda for seven years full-time to do what they could to help. Funded by friends and the hacker community they started a free-to-access computers training center, a skill-developing restaurant, a leather program and more. These programs are still running today, funded by the hacker community.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
At Hackers for Charity, our goal is to highlight the good work of the hacker community, participate in altruistic projects and flatten the learning curve for those wishing to get involved and in the process change the misconceptions about our great community.
Hackers for Charity was founded by Johnny Long, a professional hacker by trade, author by brute force, public speaker, “pirate by birth” and “ninja by training”. He travelled to Uganda in 2007 after his wife Jen was profoundly affected by a mission trip there the year before. During his first two-week trip, Johnny’s eyes were opened to how the “rest of the world lived”. From the Twitter version of the story: “Her pictures. Africans. Orphans. Ridiculous poverty. Filth. Huge smiles. Laughter. Happy kids?!? Happy about what? It ate at me, haunted me.” Johnny found that his (unlikely) skills could literally save lives when he leveraged them for more than personal gain. Realizing that others in the community might be interested in lending their skills to help others in need, Johnny founded Hackers For Charity in 2007 with it’s controversial tagline and T-shirt logo, “I hack charities”.
Eventually, Johnny and Jen felt God’s distinct calling to go to Uganda. Johnny walked away from his career and the Longs sold or donated their belongings, left behind their home (which eventually was lost to foreclosure) and with very little spending money, took a leap of faith and relocated to Uganda as a family.
Over time, it became clear that they were called to do three distinct things: act as a support organization to non-profits working in Uganda, provide technology and skills training to Ugandans and non-profit staff supporting them, and provide a platform for hackers and technologists to get involved in life-changing work all over the globe.
The Long family served full-time in Uganda for a total of seven years (2009-2016), funded solely by small donations from individual donors and supporters, and Hackers for Charity continues to grow.
During our seven years in Uganda, our primary goal was one of support.
- We provided technical support, food, accommodation, training and more to dozens of organizations, supporting them as they in turn supported the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
- We started a restaurant in Jinja (The Keep) which served as a hub, allowing us to interact and come alongside a multitude of workers and volunteers assisting them with not only food, coffee, Internet and a safe family-friendly, non-alcohol environment, but also with technical support in the form of computer repair, networking services and more.
- We founded a Computer Training Center (CTC) in 2010 which is run by a dedicated team of Ugandan employees, most of whom received technical training through the center. They serve as proctors and instructors and even conduct courses in the field to schools and organizations that can’t afford travel to the center.
We train many students for free, including: non-profits, government or police force staff; HFC employees; and those who can provide a letter of introduction from a non-profit organization. Other students train at a deeply discounted rate designed to encourage training instead of profit. In addition, we have supported many local schools with the addition of computers and training software to allow schools to teach IT, putting their students far ahead of the educational curve. We also run a hackerspace which provides space, tools and high-tech resources for Ugandans including a high-school level robotics team which is set to represent Uganda in the VEX World Championships.
The CTC and Hackerspace is fully funded by the hacker community (at a rate of $1200 per month) and has served hundreds of students (most of whom started with no experience) and have now landed IT-related jobs as a direct result of our training. Other graduates continue their education in highly-selective IT-focussed university courses. Please consider a donation to help us keep these important operations running. We are open to corporate sponsorships to assist with this.
- We lived in a home which we converted into a non-commercial bed and breakfast designed to assist missionaries, adopting couples and others with safe, comfortable and affordable housing as they lived, worked and served in Uganda.
- We founded a leather working program that employs fifteen Ugandans full-time. The program grew from a simple realization that many people needed skills but for various reasons found that IT training was an impractical path. Since many skills training programs (tailoring, bead making, wood working, etc) were saturated we decided to focus on leather work, a practically unknown skill in Uganda. Johnny and Jen taught themselves the basics of the trade and taught what they learned. Now, the craftsmen and women are producing beautiful works of art in a joint process that empowers widows and disadvantaged women in the village and students working in our home “workshop”. Click here to learn more about our leather program and see some of our artists’ work, or visit our Etsy shop which showcases products as the come available.
- We provided food to children in East Africa through a food program, funded by profits from sales of Johnny’s No-Tech Hacking book and the (now-defunct) Informer subscription program.
As of Nov, 2017, the Computer Training Center, the hackerspace and the leather working program are still in operation. The Keep is struggling financially and requires a financial bail-out to survive, but it is still run completely by our local staff.
If you’re asking about this, you’ve likely seen the shirt with the “I hack charities” emblazoned on the front. Well, don’t freak out. We don’t “hack” into charities. Our tagline is all about the negative controversy around the words “hack” and “hacker”. We go into more details about this in our other FAQ “Hackers are evil”, but in short, our shirt gets looks, and often creates conversation.
When we’re asked about the shirt, we simply explain that we’re the “good guys”, and that we, “are a bunch of hackers working to make the world a better place” or “working on projects to help people”. If we get a few more minutes we outline a few key things about who we are. We explain that:
- Hackers are not evil, and that we get a bad rap from the <1% of our community that use their skill for criminal purposes.
- We use our technical skills to help people.
- Our community runs a computer training center in Uganda that gives Ugandans free computer training that has provided over 200 Ugandans jobs.
- We use our skills to help people in disaster relief scenarios with communication and power.
- We provide free computer education and security awareness training in schools, Veteran facilities, transitional homes and prisons.
Finally, we tell people to google for “hacker” and “charity” to find us and hope the website tells the rest of the story.
Yes, we get this a lot. People hear the word “hacker” and think criminal. We have the media to thank for that. The simple fact is that the term “hack” simply meant to come up with a quick (albeit sometimes inelegant) solution to a complex problem. Hackers were folks that thought about life in creative ways and could “see” pathways to solutions that most people could not. Inventors like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, innumerable MIT grads and others were “hackers”. It’s no wonder that many, many of us with this particular mindset gravitated toward computers and specifically computer security since that industry presented some of the most complex problems known to man, and we jumped head first into solving them.
Today, “hacker” is misused to refer to computer criminals. The hacker community is mistakingly labeled as criminal because of the acts of <1% of us. In truth, are hardworking problem-solving citizens with families and not only do we do completely legal work protecting our clients from criminals, but we are also generous and give of our time and skills to help others, often without recognition.
At Hackers for Charity, our goal is to highlight the good work of the hacker community, participate in altruistic projects and flatten the learning curve for those wishing to get involved. In the process we also aim to change the misconceptions about our great community.
I’m a Christian, husband, father, hacker, author, pirate, ninja and founder of Hackers For Charity. You can read more about me and my journey on the page here, or read the Wikipedia article, or Google.
The short version: Our founder, Johnny Long, is a follower of Jesus Christ, a “Christian”, but Hackers for Charity is not religiously affiliated. Our goal is to include hackers and advanced technologists in generally-altruistic work to make the world a better place. Our community includes and welcomes members of all religious and non-religious affiliations. If you consider yourself a hacker and want to do some good with your skills, you’ve found the right place.
Note: Our 501(c)3 (“non-profit”) status is under Ascend, which is a Christ-centered organization founded by Gil Kinch. He has graciously allowed us to operate as a DBA (“doing-business-as”) and handles our finances. He has a lot of years in the financial and non-profit world and we are thankful for his support in this regard, but Gil is not a board member and understands and supports our desire to run HFC as a non-religious organization without undue influence.
The longer version:
We are commonly asked if HFC is a “Christian organization”. Johnny and Jen Long are Christians and in faith followed the call to Uganda. However, we (the Longs) were not called as full-time evangelists, but led very specifically to “serve the servants” in Uganda, playing what is often a very backstage role, simply giving of our gifts and abilities.
HFC has proudly worked alongside volunteers of every “religious” (and “non-religious”) affiliation. Together we have worked with all manner of non-profit organizations, and helped individuals from all walks of life. We are proud of these collaborations, and this is just one example of what makes our community special. We can set aside most issues that divide communities and simply work together without much fuss.
In short, HFC is not about “religion” or lack thereof. We are proud of the diversity of our community and are simply volunteers doing good, sometimes despite differing personal beliefs.
For more about this topic, about Johnny Long here.