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.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


CEPLAC is a nature reserve dedicated to research of and preservation of the Brasilian rainforest, cacao, rubber, and sloths. We started our day by observing the sloth reservation (for lack of a better word), where a special lady has dedicated her life to the rehabilitation of sloths who have been harmed. They currently have 26 sloths at the preserve, the majority of whom have been hurt by humans in some way (electrocution, deforestation, etc). She works to get them back to health, and then, if/when they are ready, to return them to the wild.

We then went to learn about how cocoa is made from cacau. After the nuts have been removed from the fruit (which apparently is quite tasty), they are fermented for several days to bring out their taste. Then they are dried in the sun. These little shacks where they are dried are very cool--they have roofs on slides so they can easily be covered if it rains! Then the nuts are separated into shell and nib. The nib is then processed into different raw products used in the chocolate we buy.

After leaving CEPLAC, we stopped at a bulk foods store where everyone bought massive amounts of Brasilian candy and cookies to bring home. For lunch, we went to a Brasilian steakhouse, which was quite an interesting experience! They had a great salad bar, but the MEAT is really what is phenomenal. They just come around constantly with giant skewers of meat and cut off chunks for you if you say "sim." We all thought we were going to burst from eating too much, but it was so good!

While we were still sluggish from eating so much at lunch, we proceeded to our first clinic, PROSSI. PROSSI is a PT/OT clinic for elderly with Parkinson's disease, Alzheimers, or Osteoporosis. It was interesting to learn that these clinics are government-run, open to all, but are severely under funded and just simply don't have the materials they should to properly care for patients. We've already started thinking of other devices we can work on for them, and the fundraising efforts needed to get them some simple supplies they could desperately use. For example, their exam tables are, at best, uncomfortable and barely adequate, but physicians and clinics in the US discard better quality mats and tables ALL THE TIME. The trick is-how do we get them here? It will take a bit of work to raise the money to ship such large items.

We concluded the day by taking an hour to prepare for the next few days. We got out our devices, tested them, set them up, and played around with them to make sure there wasn't any damage during our travels, get the "thumbs-up" from our OT Christine, and to make sure everyone understands all components of their projects (since some were done at each school, but not EVERYONE is on the trip). Tomorrow begins the real work for us--we will be doing what we came here to do--deliver and adjust the devices that we designed during the spring semester.

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