Inspired by Project Daniel
In 2014, a Youtube video called “Project Daniel” told the story of a 14-year-old boy who had lost his arms to a bomb. The video says, “I came to Sudan with 3D printers, laptops, spools of plastic, and the goal to build Daniel and arm.” Thanks to this prosthetic, Daniel was able to feed himself, throw a ball, and operate more conveniently again. His life had been changed.
Lifelong buddies Fercho Vallese and Eric Dijkhuis viewed the video and said, “We need to do this in Paraguay. So many people require help” with the industrial accidents in the area.
In Guarani, the native language of Paraguay, Po means to empower or enable someone. They wanted to empower those in need of prosthetics to live their best lives, and they wanted to enable the community to help them: so Po Paraguay was born.
Partnership with e-NABLE
Fercho was a businessman, and Eric was a medical student. Despite their apparent lack of background, the pair had a vision for the future, so they bought a 3D printer and started looking for the support they needed to create that change. They soon found the e-NABLE Google+ group, which at the time included about 100 global individuals creating prosthetics.
One benefit of the alliance was product development. Po Paraguay created its first working arm, and while the model looked excellent on the computer, it could not endure real-life conditions. The prosthetics broke easily, so the team scratched the project and started prototyping thermoplastics with the help of e-NABLE volunteer Christian Silva.
They abstract the medical side from users, especially for kids and those in a vulnerable situation, because interacting with medical professionals can be frightening. Many have never experienced medical professionals, or if they have, it has been in the throws of a catastrophe. Instead, they want this to be like a children’s party. They personalize the theme to each child with their favorite food and music. They even personalize the arm with the child’s favorite color and characters. The doctors are dressed casually, and they try to help them enjoy the special moment when they receive their first prosthetic.
Po Paraguay’s Growth
Soon, Fercho and Eric delivered their first prosthetic. The recipient was a young girl born with no arms. After seeing the reaction of the girl and her family, the pair knew Po Paraguay had to be more than a hobby, a gig, or even a full-time job: they would more employees and volunteers to reach beyond what either of them could do alone.
Po Paraguay delivered five hands in their first year, and by the next year, the number rose to 50. To continue its growth, the organization needed more printers and in-house employed designers, so Fercho and Eric started fundraising. The team threw block parties and ran a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo to raise $60,000.
The product continued to evolve, and people from all over South America started traveling long distances to gain access to their comfortable, durable prosthetics. To increase accessibility, Fercho and Eric replicated the Po Paraguay model in Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Each of these organizations has access to Po Paraguay’s media resources and models their positive approach to the experience. Fercho and Eric teach local organizations to record measurements, which are sent to Paraguay’s design team for design creation and personalization. They can then ship the design or the arm itself.
What’s next for Po Paraguay? Fercho and Eric plan to soon release a $70 scanner so that anyone, anywhere can send sockets measurements to Po Paraguay, who can create a socket, which is the most expensive part of the design.
The organization’s prosthetics will soon include portions of the arm above the elbow, and researchers are incorporating electrostatics for more gentle and precise gripping.