The mission of the Program for Assistive Technologies for Underprivileged (PATU) is to allow students to practice engineering skills while they develop strong communication and teamwork skills, gain global perspective, and learn social responsibility through projects for persons with disabilities that otherwise could not afford assistance.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The journey home

I apologize for taking so long to post about our journey home, but as soon as we arrived back in Iowa, I've been back to work and BUSY!

So we were supposed to leave Ilheus on Saturday at 4:30 PM. Christine's family had to bring her to the airport early for some reason, and she was my ride, so we arrived about 12:15 and got all checked in so we would be 2 less people inline when everyone else arrived (told to be there at 2:30). We were sitting there relaxing when a Gol airline worker walked up to us about 1:20 and told us our flight had been CANCELED. I could NOT believe my ears, and tears were immediately in my eyes. NOT AGAIN! She wanted to get us on a flight that was to leave at 2, but we couldn't leave without our students!

Christine spent about 40 minutes on the phone trying to call all of our students to get them to get to the airport FAST. Unfortunately, after 4 more hours, and several different ticket prints later, we were not going to be getting out of Ilheus that night. They packed us all into an airline shuttle and took us to a hotel. At least it was a different hotel!!

After hours of waiting, we were told we were booked on an 8:30AM flight from Ilheus to Sao Paulo. We didn't know yet how we would get out of Sao Paulo, but at least we'd be one step closer. So we got to the airport about 7:15AM so we could all get checked in before we needed to board. We quickly had our tickets and were through security, only to find out there were MORE delays. Ilheus is a very small airport--one short runway with ocean on either end. Well, it was raining, so no planes could land for fear of skidding off into the ocean! So we had to wait (about 3 hours) until the rain stopped and a flight could come in and take us away.

It also turned out that we were actually flying to Rio de Janeiro, arriving around 2PM, and connecting to Sao Paulo, to arrive about 7:30PM. When we arrived in Rio we had to hang out for a while. Fortunately, Christine used this time to try to figure out how we would eventually get back to the US. It turned out there was a flight from Rio to Atlanta leaving at 9:30 PM, so she spent an hour and a half (on Kellner's phone) with a Delta agent arranging all of our flights to our final destinations FROM RIO instead of connecting through Sao Paulo. Yay! We were finally really on our way! After our many hours of lay over in Rio, we were going home!

Thank you to everyone for a great trip, despite the travel problems! Andy and Chris, you were great and I really enjoyed having you with me. You always kept a great attitude and kept the mood light--thanks!

That concludes our trip saga, but I will be keeping this blog updated as we continue to work on assistive technologies for underprivileged persons, both in developing areas and in local areas. At the end of the summer, my STEM Summer Research students will be working on a project for a local patient, and in the Spring we will be working on more projects in our Design Laboratory course. This project means a lot to me as well as our program, as we feel it brings a very meaningful experience to our students. We will be working on finding projects, patients, funding, and collaborators throughout the year, so keep checking back to learn more about our program!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Valcano eruption grounds flights in Southern Brasil

Yep, that's the headline! It's not a particularly new headline, as I believe the eruption began on June 8, but none of us new about this, we've been living in our own little world, watching Portuguese television (or none at all) and not really understanding anything. It turns out the cloud of ash from this volcano has made it impossible to fly through southern Brasil. While we are currently in northern Brasil, the only route OUT is via the south. Therefore, we are grounded until further notice.


Friday, June 10, 2011

A day of thanks

We spent the morning shopping, buying all of our souvenirs and gifts for family and friends at the Ilheus Artisan market. I'm sure the vendors there were excited to have us--we made it a very profitable day for them! There were several hammocks, blankets, dresses, keychains, tshirts, sarongs, necklaces, and other Bahian treasures purchased that now need to be creatively packed into our suitcases.

We spent a little time this afternoon discussing the details of the trip and what was good what was not so that we can improve for the future. While not everything was perfect (as is the case for nearly all things in life), I think the students really enjoyed themselves and learned a lot about Brasilian culture as well as the need for the kinds of work we are trying to do with our projects.

This evening we had a potluck going away party. It was interesting to learn that Brasilians don't really seem to know what a potluck is! All of the host families were invited so we could all hang out and thank them for hosting students. There seemed to be a lot of anxiousness about what to bring, but I think everyone did very well! There was definitely not a shortage of food! It was a really great time and I think everyone had fun.

I want to say thank you to all of the families that hosted students (and even Aline who was SUPPOSED to host but didn't get to!). Being able to stay with a family enhances the students' experience more than can even be described, and we couldn't do it without willing volunteers!

Thank you to the Praia do Sol staff for letting us have our party in their breakfast area.

Thank you to the students for coming on this trip. I hope you all had a great trip and will remember this as an interesting and meaningful experience for the rest of your lives. Never forget what you have done here for these people, as I'm sure they never will.

Thank you to Dr. Pierce and Dr. Yochum for your collaboration with these projects and for helping to make this trip happen. I hope that this collaboration will continue for years to come.

Thank you Dr. Urish for also helping make this happen. We could not have found these projects without you and would not have been successful in delivering and implementing them without you.

Thank you to Carolyn and Amalia for all of your translating help these last two weeks. You were great company!

Thank you everyone at UESC, SBC, and SAU that also helped make this happen behind the scenes.

And Patty....there aren't enough words to even begin saying thank you for everything you have done for us. You are amazing. No one will ever know how many hours you put in to make everything happen for this trip. We owe you so much, but would never be able to repay your generosity. THANK YOU!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Another very educational day

What is your first reaction when you hear “we are going to visit a prison in Brasil”…? Well, naturally, there were some anxious nerves about this visit. But I put my faith in Dr. Urish, knowing that she would never take us anyplace we would be unsafe. Though, as the bus made its way up a dirt “road” and we approached the gate, where there were about 30 women waiting to get in to see their husbands, I’ll admit that I got a little nervous. We were all escorted through the gate (before the other waiting women), passed our IDs to the guard, and were wanded before we were greeted by the assistant warden and began our tour. I know just enough Portuguese that I picked up some of the waiting women yelling “Hey, I speak English, let me in, too!” in a tone that was making fun of us and made all the other women laugh. Oy!

The tour was very interesting. As you might expect, the living conditions are not particularly nice. However, they are given plenty of time for recreation as well as education and skill learning. There are two main reasons we went on the tour of this facility. First, Dr. Urish is conducting research where she is comparing Brasilian prisons with prisons in the US. It is very interesting that the recidivism rate in Brasil is much lower than in the US. I would suspect this is for two main reasons. One—the conditions are so harsh while they are in the prison that they really don’t want to return. Two—they have important training programs that teach prisoners skills that help them become meaningful contributors to society-both while they are in prison and after they return to the community. Inmates where we toured learn to make woven goods from Piacava fibers, crafts that they can sell primarily made from wrappers or other items that would be thrown away, and even learn to be cosmetologists. The prison workers sell these items for the inmates at market and 100% of the money goes to the inmate to send home to his or her family. Our OT friend, Camila, oversees these programs. That brings me to the second reason we toured this facility—we would like to (quite a few years down the line) find a way to manufacture our devices for those in need on a larger scale, and think it could possibly be a good addition to the rehabilitation program for the inmates. Well, I think everyone had an interesting experience—some had their hair washed and dried at the salon (Dr. Pierce included!), some had their nails done, many purchased beautiful woven baskets, and we all left the prison safely!

In the afternoon we visited our final clinic (CAPS infantil—they work with all ages of children), and delivered our final device. This clinic was one that truly represents the neediness of the clinics in the area. They have almost nothing to use for therapy and the conditions were rough. Here is where we met Max, our final client. Max is in his early teens years and has a debilitating form of autism. He reacts well to deep pressure applied to his upper torso (like a bear hug), and really loves to play with strings with his hands. Our students (Chris, Jake, Caitlin, and Katelyn) designed two different vests for max. The first is a compression vest, meant to help apply that needed deep pressure without having to have a bear hug. The second is a more fun vest he can wear over the pressure vest with some brightly colored shoe strings attached, Theraputty sewn into the pocket, and Velcro flaps that he can play with. Max responded very very well to both vests! He definitely seemed calmer with the compression vest on, and took well to the over vest and loved the new string! Chris did a really great job interacting with Max and getting to know him. Max’s mom was very happy that we chose him for a project and had us all over for cake and soda. Another great job!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

THIS is why we are here!

NOTE: This post has been edited from it's original version to include more photos!

Today can be best described with the word “wow.” It was an amazing day that finally drove home the real reason why we are here. We have enjoyed learning all that we have in the last week, enjoying the great food, good people, and beautiful scenery, but our real reason for this trip is to help those in need. Today we did just that. Today we learned what really keeps bringing Dr. Urish back here and why she so desperately wanted us to do these projects—the hearts of those who have nothing, need everything, and still live life to the fullest.

We started the day off a bit rocky—there was a juggling of drivers and buses at UESC and we had a new guy that we really didn’t appreciate. We ended up being VERY late to our destination. He was late getting us, stopped to buy CDs WHILE WE WERE IN THE BUS, etc. Hopefully we don’t have THAT guy again!

Once we arrived at our first clinic, Rachel, our OT student, conducted her workshop on how to adapt a device that normally requires fine motor skills to be able to be used with gross motor skills. She did a very good job despite the turf wars that appeared to be going on between the two groups teachers and OTs present (they apparently EACH want to lay claim to being able to do this—not a terrible problem to have, I guess!). She also was very patient when it seemed like Murphy’s law was at work—if it can go wrong, it will! Despite that, I think it was a success and the people here will greatly benefit from her lesson as well as the materials she is leaving. Good work, Rachel!

After lunch we went to the clinic of CREADH. Many many many things went on here. First, we unloaded all of our donations—thank you Amy, Anneli, Aunt Barb, Aunt Linda, Aunt Rita, Aunt Mary Ann, Grandma Barney, Bonnie, Mickey, Auntie Pat, Grandma and Grandpa Shroba, Sharalan, Teri and the Vegas MK ladies, everyone who was in our IE 351 course and the SBC Tech and Society class, and everyone from MOSAIC (I’m sorry if I forgot anyone—I left my list at home!)—your generosity will bring joy and, most importantly, much needed therapeutic tools to those in need. Due to the large amount of theft that happens at the clinic, the OT, Camila, tries to lock what she can at the clinic in cabinets, but takes everything else home every night. As we were given a tour of the facility, students handed out stuffed animals to the children-it was adorable!

We then took over their “arts and crafts” room and set up our devices to demonstrate them to the OTs so they could let us know her opinion and so they could be trained. While we did this, the group who was working on developing the prosthetic hand (Kellner, Sarah, (Justin and Jason-absent)) went into another room to discuss future possibilities for that project—everyone left the conversation very excited. When they returned, the students started showing off their projects.

First, Felicia and Lauren demonstrated the “Theraband slingshot” intended to improve upper extremity range of motion and strength. They created a board with several different habitats and have small stuffed animals with magnets sewn in their paws. They then created slingshots with 4 different strengths of Therabands so there are multiple levels of difficulty. Everyone had fun trying this one out! They also found that their device can be used in other therapeutic ways. The animals can be thrown instead of slung, or a patient can practice fine motor skills by trying to make the paws unstuck using just one hand. Great job, ladies!

Then Andy and Chris showed how to assemble and use the Ladder Ball/Bags game created by Jacob and Lucas. This is ingenious as there are like 1-million games in one set! The therapists love it, love that it breaks down into such small pieces, and has different levels of difficulty (different weights of balls, different sizes of balls, different sizes of targets, etc). Another great job!

Next Madeline, Lindsey, and Maryam discussed with the OT their devices (along with Amy and Mike who are not in attendance). There are several components to this one. First, they had a table top with icons that can be attached to a wheelchair. We are still not sure if it will work to attach, but at the very least it will work simply placed on someone’s lap. There are several icons that the patient can point to to try to communicate. It is also made of plexiglass, so it can easily be written on with a wet-erase marker. Mike created several simple devices that easily strap to a patient’s hand and grasp a pen or other utensil—it was a hit! They also had recordable buttons and an icon book to help their patient, Manuel (or Miguel?), communicate. Well done!

Liz then showed the project for Emanuelle worked on by herself, Scooter, Andy, and Kyle. This project had two components—one that will stay in Brasil, and one that is only a prototype and needs more work. The first is a gaze board. It is a simple piece of plexiglass with icons that you can hold up. One person is looking through the board to interpret where the patient is looking to try to communicate an idea. While simple, it is a great first step to try to help Emanuelle communicate with people around her. The second device still needs some more work, but will allow her to choose icons on an electronic board by blinking her eye. Her mother was very excited about it, and was in tears. Our experience with Emanuelle was truly wonderful—she is a very sweet girl and we hope that we can continue to help her in the future. When she smiled for Christine, I think everyone in the room nearly started crying.

While we were in the clinic, we were paid an unexpected visit from the director of all health services in the city of Itabuna (a very important job). He is very excited about what we are doing, and wants to find ways to help us help them. He was extremely impressed with our projects and thankful for all of the gifts that we brought.

We finished the day be going to the home of one of our patients, Milton. Milton is a quad amputee and has a story that will make you melt. When Christine described him to us, she said he is the happiest person she has ever met. You cannot truly appreciate what she means by that until you meet him yourself. I have never met anyone so optimistic and happy to be alive as Milton. He was an inspiration.

Nine years ago, Milton was a construction worker earning a decent salary, when his whole life changed in the blink of an eye. He was standing on a balcony using a metal measuring tape, when his tape fell onto an electrical line. He was electrocuted with 3,000 V. He was very lucky that his coworkers quickly got to him and pulled his tongue out so he didn’t choke to death. His arms and legs were so badly burned that they had to be amputated, and he therefore no longer has a job. He and his wife live in what would best be called in the US as a shack, but they are happy. He thanks God every day for being alive, and is truly the happiest and most thankful person I have ever met in my life. When we were discussing with him our project, he couldn’t have been more excited, and says he doesn’t care how long it takes, he will be happy with whatever we can give him. The first thing he wants to do with his new hand—brush his teeth! The whole time we were there he just kept thanking us for doing this for him. His wife even made cake for us to have lunch. They were just so nice.

We were inspired and can’t wait to continue working on this project for Milton and everyone else out there that needs our help. I’ve always wanted to do things that help people, it’s been my mission in life. As Dr. Pierce put it, it is just so great to see for ourselves, and teach our students, how the world is a big place, but we can all do our small part to help each other out. As engineers, we have special skills, so why not use those skills to create devices for people that cannot do it for themselves? There is nothing more rewarding than doing something good for someone else.