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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

We are trying our hardest to provide our dear patient, Mr. Milton, with simple upper limb prosthetics to improve his daily living by this May.  Check out the story here:  http://sbc.edu/news/engineering-science/mr-miltons-arms/
Check out the video I created after our recent trip.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Let us not say "goodbye" but only "see you next time"

I am writing this final post with both sadness and excitement.  I am excited to be heading home to see my husband and daughters, but sad to be leaving my Bahian friends.  But I am also excited about the future of this work and the relationships we are developing.  The sky is the limit when you are working with people who are passionate and determined.

During our final day we were given a tour of Barry Callebaut, a large industrial cacau factory.  Kaio, a UESC engineering student who is interning at the company, did a great job showing us around and explaining the processes.  There were great questions and interactions, too, as students were interested in the industrial engineering work that he does here with control charts, production charts, SAP, and OEE.  We had to dress like Umpa Lumpas so as not to contaminate anything.  It was very interesting to see how similar factories are comparing to the US, but this one was unbearably HOT!

We then gorged ourselves with lunch at Los Pampas.  Brazilian BBQ is truly amazing.  The amount of meat we ate cannot even be described.  It was delicious and fun, although many may have regretted it later.  Patty, our previous coordinator, joined us for lunch.  It was so wonderful to see her again.  Love you, Patty!!!

Our final visit was to CEPLAC, a federally-funded research facility/sanctuary.  There are several hundred acres of land where they grow forest with several different fruit trees and cacau.  They do research with growing, raising, and processing cacau.  They also have a sanctuary for sloths that have been displaced by deforestation.  I think this may have been one of the students most favorite things of the entire trip!  There was one sloth that was very friendly and interesting in the students.  They are very interesting animals!

They also raise bees at CEPLAC and produce honey.  They have a special breed of bees that do not have stingers, which is neat for those of us who are allergic!  They also raise African Killer Bees.  When asked why they raise them if they are so dangerous, he said it was because they produce so much more honey than the other types, and it is sweeter. 

I want to say THANK-YOU to everyone who made this trip happen.  It has been amazing.  Thank you to all of the students that have been with us on our trips to help out and learn (Alana, Fany, Kaio, Pri...sorry if I miss anyone!).  Thank you to our wonderful hosts for giving our students a great experience (Marcello, Luciana, Junior, Felipe, Annapaula, Nara).  Thank you to the UESC faculty who helped to organize our schedule (Jose Carlos, Julianno, Fabricio, Patty).  A very special thanks to Marcelo for being a great tour guide, interpreter, and host. 

And, finally, there are no words strong enough to express my gratitude to our coordinator, Fabricio.  Thank you so much for everything you've done.  I look forward to our future collaboration and friendship!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Our work in action

Today Chris taught Emanuelle and her parents how to use the communication device they developed.  I think she actually picked up on it quite quickly!  Emanuelle (they call her Manu) has a really wonderful, sweet, and supportive family.  Manu's father enjoyed sharing pictures with me of Manu's recent Quinciniera (15th birthday bash--it's like the "sweet sixteen" in America).  She looked beautiful in her flowing pink gown.  Her little sister (one year old) had a matching dress.  She was absolutely adorable!  I hope that she and her family find joy in using this device and being able to enhance their level of communication for years to come.

Kate got to finally deliver her device, as well, and it was tried out immediately!

We also went to Milton's house to learn more about him.  He was just as cheerful and happy as ever!  Since we last saw him, he has received his prosthetic legs.  However, they do not fit and seem to be impractical to use well.  We will be doing some research on how we might be able to either improve them for him or find him an alternative.  We also got an extensive explanation of all the work that Camila has been doing to help improve his life as well as what additional needs he has.  Mitch is already designing something in his head and is planning to ship it to him by the end of the summer!

Only one day left of scheduled events and then we are headed back to the US.  I have very mixed emotions.  I am really going to miss the friends we've made here, but am leaving with great excitement about the future of our collaboration with UESC and the work we can do for the clinics and Camila.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Better than a postcard

When you think of postcards, you think of them capturing the beautiful scenery of a location so you can send it to your friends...perhaps to make them feel a bit jealous?  Well, just as a warning, everything you are about to see below is better than a postcard, and WILL make you jealous!  Today was absolutely AMAZING.  We got to hike through the forest to get to secluded beaches nestled between cliffs and take gorgeous pictures.  We also watched natives complete their artwork using local materials to sell at the artisan market.  Thank you, muito obrigada, for a wonderful day, Fabricio! 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Planting a seed

This morning Eduardo, a graduate student in engineering at UESC, showed us around the materials labs.  It was interesting for the students to hear of the different materials used in polymers and other compounds here.  It was also very cool to see one of their new projects--a distillery!  They are trying to make beer with locally-grown ingredients instead of having to import barley from other areas around the world. 

We then went to the civil engineering lab where the students learned of the different materials (foam and piacava) that are being incorporated into the concrete to both increase the strength and reduce the weight.  They are also working on an interesting method of fitting concrete blocks together, where recycled bottles are used and the pieces fit together like Legos.  

Next came the part where, hopefully, we planted a seed.  The students presented their projects to UESC Intro to Engineering students.  The Sweet Briar and St. Ambrose students did a great job presenting their projects, and a big thank-you to Alana for being our interpreter today!  Students from UESC asked many thoughtful questions about considerations for mass production and testing of the devices.  They were also very interested in learning more about our programs.  In our answers we tried to emphasize how the devices being presented are not necessarily "the end."  Many need additional iterations or could benefit more people if they were taken to the "next level" (rigorously tested, a system designed for mass production, marketing and entrepreneurship, etc).  That would be a yet another great way to involve UESC students in this overall project.  We have really enjoyed the integration of UESC engineering students into our trip this time and hope that it is just the first step to a truly great integration and collaboration.  Thanks for all of your hard work on this Fabricio, Julianno, and Jose Carlos (sorry if I am not spelling your names correctly!!).

After another quick lunch at the Itabuna mall (and massive purchasing of Brazil soccer jerseys and t-shirts), we headed to a different clinic in Itabuna called CAPSia (Alana, you will need to re-remind me what that stands for!).  We were given a warm welcome by Maggie, the clinic coordinator, the staff, and the children and their parents, and everyone took a seat eager to hear about the students' projects.

Kate started the presentations by detailing the seat positioner she designed with Kelsey and Epiphany (all students at Sweet Briar).  The device is designed to prevent children between the ages of 5 months and 2 years from sitting in the 'W' position, where there hips and knees are abducted in a way that is not good for normal joint development.  The device is a chair that sits on the floor so the child can still play easily, but has longer sides so that the legs cannot be bent around and must stay out in front.  It is adjustable for three different sizes, has a tray, and is made out of a very fun fabric that is covered in plastic for easy washing.  Unfortunately, Kate will probably have to present her device again on Thursday, because it should actually go to CREADH.  Great job, though, Kate!

Kate also then presented the vest that was designed for Max by Hannah, Mandi, and Jessica (from Sweet Briar).  No one from the group was able to make the trip, so Kate took responsibility for explaining the device.  It is a fisherman's vest with blood pressure cuffs sewn in the sleeves so that Max can apply pressure to his arms himself to provide himself with therapy.  Max has autism, and when he sometimes becomes out of control, applying a bear hug to Max will really calm him down.  It is the hope that Max will learn to use the vest to calm himself down.  They also provided different games attached to the vest that Max can fidget with.  He was there and tried it on.  He and several of the students were dancing!  Hard to tell for sure, but I think he liked it!

Finally, Kiera presented the vestibular therapy devices designed by her group (Luke and Neil from St. Ambrose and Kiera, Emily, and Rosalie from Sweet Briar).  The group designed and built two separate devices.  The first device is a simple swiveling seat.  The second is a wobble board that was integrated into a game.  The idea is that the patient is to view different shapes on a device in front of them that is spinning (slowly), and they are to lean on the wobble board in the direction of the corresponding shape (which is velcroed to the board).  This will then help to train their senses to better integrate different inputs (visual and vestibular or proprioceptive, for example). 

Thank you to everyone for your hard work today!  I think the children enjoyed interacting with the students!

Candomblé-Supplemental post

This is a "supplemental" post because I will post again today to share what we did as a group today.  However, a few of us had an interesting experience that I wanted to share from last night.

The majority of Brazil is Catholic.  However, even their normal catholic rituals are different than those we normally see in the US. There is a "significant overlay" of Afro-Brazilian religions with catholic practice in Brazil.  For example, the Orishás (gods or spirits) of Candomblé are combined with the Saints.  When we saw the statues of the Orishás at the home of Jorge Amado in downtown Ilheus, Marcelo and Fabricio, the terrific faculty from UESC who have graciously been our guides while we are here, were discussing with each other which of the Orishás were theirs.  I interpreted this to be that they select one for themselves much like our children do for confirmation (but I cannot claim to be an expert).

One of our great hosts (Marcelo) offered to take us (Kate, Kiera, Mitch, Hank, and I) to a religious ceremony of Candomblé last night.  I will admit that many of us were slightly nervous and not sure what to expect.  I don't know about anyone else, but I was picturing something dark with lots of candles and deities. This ceremony was far from that.  

As soon as we got out of the car we could hear the drums.   We followed Marcelo's friend into a building where the ceremony was being held.  There was a hallway that opened up to a large open room with white tile floor.  As we walked down the hallway I noticed an altar with a bowl of popcorn set in front of it as an offering.  We entered the large room and sat in couches covered in red sheets that lined the outside of the room.  At the front of the room was an altar.  Placed on the floor in from of the altar there were many vases with white and red flowers. The altar was essentially a stage, raised about two feet off the ground, with a short white fence.  The fence had sashes draped across it and tied into bows.  On the stage were three boys/men with three different-sized conga drums tirelessly playing the upbeat music for the ceremony.  Under the stage there were dolls and other toys strewn about.  The entire ceiling was decorated with white and red streamers and there was a mural of Orishás along one wall.

Women in white dresses danced and sang to the beat of the drums, following the lead of a woman who was obviously the high priestess.  There was a hierarchy even between the other women, as could be observed by their actions when it came time to pray to the different Orishás.  Women of lower stature were required to lay on the floor and kiss the hands and bow to the women who were above them in "rank."  Occasionally the women would yell and shake with the spirits that had incorporated their bodies.  In the beginning, the Spiritual Mother covered herself with a type of powder, and then walked around the entire room, starting with the other priestesses, and gave some of the powder to everyone else.  Then she did the same with a canister of burning incense.  I believe these were both her way of cleansing our spirits.

Most of the ceremony included the women dancing and singing a song to Obaluaiye (also known as Omolu, which, if I remember correctly, was Fabricio's "saint"), and praying to all of the deities.  This particular ceremony was dedicated to this Orisha and was for healing or health.  One of the women was overcome by his spirit and displayed his dance, which is hunched over, as if in pain, imitating suffering and shaking with fever.  The Spiritual Mother was also overcome by the spirit of Obaluaiye, and in the end she blessed those who asked her for blessing.

At one point in the ceremony the priestesses presented offerings of popcorn and a sweet soup made of coconut and corn.  Offerings (or perhaps blessings) were first made to the corners of each room by throwing handfulls of popcorn.  Then the Spiritual Mother seemed to bless each of the priestesses by throwing popcorn at them.  Then everyone present was offered a large handful of popcorn with large pieces of coconut in it, and we were instructed to eat it.  They then offered everyone a cup of the sweet soup (two different times).  We were told, later, that this is a way to get children and others involved in the ceremony beyond the chantings and actions of the priestesses.  

At the end (nearly 2.5 hours later) the Spiritual Mother greeted us with a large smile.  She told us if she had known we were coming she would have prepared a meal for us (it seems the tradition of welcoming people with food is universal).  She enjoyed being able to tell us more about her religion and the ceremony.  I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to observe such a beautiful and fascinating ceremony.  While the undertaking of the ritual is in stark contrast to the normal christian church service, I would have to say that many parallels could also be observed.  To me, it helps to reinforce my belief that we as a human race are not as different as so many people see at first glance.  If all in the world could see this, it would be the first step to that ever-mythical (and sometimes cynical) idea of "world peace."  

Monday, June 3, 2013

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is something we strive to instill in our students, yet always have difficulty assessing or really figuring out what represents that idea.  I would say that what are students experience on a trip such as this really ignites a student's lifelong learning.  To me, I think that lifelong learning is being able to learn from all situations in which you are placed, and to strive to understand that which you do not. 

UESC Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering students presented to us many of the projects they are working on both in and outside of class.  I think it was interesting to see how similar a lot of the work is and at the same time be able to observe contrasts.  The main contrast, I think, is the materials that are used and the access to them.  They presented projects on developing a solar-powered heater (for water, not homes), electric car, Baja car, and a completely automated sorting device (just to name a few).  We then presented a few of our devices to them.  I think students from all universities enjoyed discussing their projects and engineering with each other.

After a brief visit to the Itabuna mall, where many souvenirs were purchased, we headed to the clinic in Itabuna called CREADH.  In this clinic, they work with patients of all ages and the care is free.  Most of the patients are children with disorders such as cerebal palsy who have limited control of their movement.  We learned that the government of Brazil does provide funding for those with disabilities to survive minimally.  They especially provide funding for older people who have become disabled, providing different levels of funding depending on whether you will likely return to the workforce after recovering or if you must retire.

Chris explained the Communication Device to the Occupational Therapist, Camila.  While I think it is a bit overwhelming, I think she is very grateful and excited to try it out with Emanuelle, a young lady with Cerebral Palsy, on Thursday.  Chris worked on this project with Connor, Elyse, and Michelle, but it is a result of the efforts of several students in the last 3 years.  This is the third iteration of the device, and we hope that it will be a keeper!

Adrianna they showed Camila the Beasy board that was purchased as a first step to try to ease the burden of Mr. Milton's transfers.  Mr. Milton is a quad amputee (see one of my posts from 2011--he is an amazing person), and the group (Adrianna, Amanda, and Kathryne) made a first iteration device to help him transfer to the toilet on his own.  Unfortunately, it was decided not to bring that specific device without doing some refining first. 

It was a really great day and I think the students are beginning to see what this is all about.  They did a great job interacting with the children at the clinic-they got a thumbs-up!