The Spanish engineer who is changing lives in Kenya with 3D-printed
When he was little, he would dream about a toy-making machine. Many years later, 3D printers arrived and he saw that his dream had turned into reality: he bought himself one and started producing figures. But Guillermo Martínez, an industrial organisation engineer, soon got tired of making “things to put on the shelf” and wanted to take things further. So he start printing prosthetics. He took them to Kenya to help people living with a disability and very limited means. It changed their lives.
“I searched for pre-designed prosthetics on the internet, I started by trying to print them and, little by little, I made a few of them. I incorporated a few things to improve them and, in the end, I had four or five of them at home”
He was already preparing a trip to the Bamba Project orphanage in Rift Valley, Kenya and he contacted the volunteers there so that they could search for people that might need the prosthetics. He started to receive photos, which he used to custom build the prosthetics and he took them over dismantled in his suitcase in the summer of 2017. He would put the parts together once he had reached his destination.
The mechanism is very simple: when the arm is inserted into the prosthesis made from PLA, the system of cords is activated and the hand opens and closes, enabling the person to hold any object.
“The first people to come and see me were a couple that I explained everything to in English, but I could see that they didn’t understand much. The orphanage coordinator began to interpret and it all went very well. They were very nice, I tried to explain to them how it worked, how they could use it... They were very grateful in the end”
One of the prosthetics of his project which stands out the most is the one he created from scratch for Robert, a Kenyan who was missing his entire right arm from the shoulder. It is pioneering, as unlike the rest, it is placed over the elbow. It is also more complex that the common ones, since it has a harness to support and attach it to the chest. “The new design was the most expensive element of the process. I based things on trial and error, because the printer was small and not everything would fit in, so I had to create it in separate parts. I took my inspiration from old prosthetics”, ” explains Guillermo, who had to work at adapting the prosthesis to its owner: “The first time I fitted it, it was very difficult. I had tried it on myself and it worked, but I hadn’t taken my own strength into account, whereas he had 10 years of muscular weakness. Finally, it got going and it worked great. It was only a matter of training”.
One of the people that received a prothesis nine months ago can now use a sewing machine, plow the land and pick up clothes. One of the cases that Guillermo most dearly remembers is that of Phillipe, a secondary school teacher who even sent a touching message of thanks to his mother.
To Guille’s Mother, I’m very grateful for this gift that Guillermo brought me. Since I was born 44 years ago, I have never used both hands. It’s wonderful to have this support in Kenya, it’s very difficult to get anything like this here. I have tried via politicians, but none of them have helped me. This is a great gesture of humanity, and I’m proud of this gentleman, who has done it very well. God bless you and may he open many paths for you, because he has also opened many dreams for me. I now even believe I can take driving lessons.
From the first prosthetics to Ayúdame 3D
Guillermo’s experience in Kenya made him realise that everything he had started could not stop there. So he created a project called Ayúdame 3D(Help Me 3D), in order to raise funds and to continue producing prosthetics for anyone that needs them. From his bedroom, his own little “workshop”, to anywhere in the world, such as Cape Verde or Sevilla, where his help has also reached.
“The end goal of my project, albeit a long-term one, is to be able to take a 3D printer to Kenya. When you’re there, you realise various things: on the one hand, electricity doesn’t work well at all, and on the other, the responsibility involved in handling such equipment. If I were to stay for a year, I could teach the couple that run the orphanage, but there’s not much point in going for 15 days and explaining everything quickly and poorly. That’s why I see it as a long-term thing”, Guillermo admits.
He has even worked on a great initiative that went viral: he created a Spiderman box using the printer to hide the chemo dispenser of a little boy suffering from leukaemia, transforming it into “a secret formula to make you stronger”.
If this seems complicated, Guillermo simplifies it to show that it’s all about having the will to do it:
“I have the technology, I can do it and that is really cool. With a mechanism of string, rubber and plastic, you can change somebody’s life. All you have to do is set your mind to it”.