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A helping hand

Helping children who have lost hands in landmine explosions is inspiring the next generation of engineers in Australian schools.

Together with Helping Hands, an Australian social enterprise, we’re helping students discover engineering by assembling prosthetic hands for landmine and other amputees in the developing world.

With 100 million active landmines in 60 countries, there is one landmine accident every 20 minutes. Of the 300,000 landmine-related amputees in the world, 20 per cent are children.

In classrooms around Australia, Origin volunteers are helping high school students assemble the prosthetic hands from 30 detailed pieces of plastic and metal. The device has three fingers on the top and two below. It uses adjustable straps to attach to the limb of an amputee victim, so they can undertake simple tasks that we often take for granted, like picking up a spoon or a toothbrush. The Australian students also decorate a pouch and insert a note for the recipient.

The program aims to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, by demonstrating how careers in these fields can create positive change in the world and improve lives. Students have the opportunity to make a real and lasting contribution while they learn.

Year 8 students at Mabel Park State High School were amongst the first to trial the program alongside Origin volunteers

Student Georgia Angat said the workshop prompted her think about a future career in technology. “I feel like I want to build stuff for people like this,” she said.

Classmate Dean Kilpatrick now wants to become an engineer, like his brother. "When I thought of engineering I thought of bridges and big buildings and aircraft or something, but things like this, it is actually pretty fun,” he added.

Science teacher Stacey King said it was empowering for the students to make something that will help someone else, and beneficial to connect them with people who work in the science and technology fields like the Origin volunteers.

"I think sometimes it is quite abstract when you're talking about STEM… (the students) don't necessarily know how it applies to future careers. It’s really good to have those experts come in and explain what it looks like at the end of their educational journey,” said Ms King.

The prosthetic hands made by the Mabel Park students are likely to be used by children in Afghanistan who had been injured by landmine explosions.

In developing countries, the cost of a traditional prosthetic hand starts at $3,000. A sophisticated prosthesis can cost anywhere up to $250,000 in Australia. Helping Hands provides prosthetic hands at no cost, for the 1 to 2 million people globally who are in need but can’t afford a prosthesis. The Helping Hands program has already created 14,000 limbs and aims to build 20,000 hands by December 2020.

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