3D printing in war-torn South Sudan

Not Impossible Labs relies on MAF to reach Yida, South Sudan to continue their 3D printing project. On this trip they print 5 prosthetic limbs for community members who have lost their arms due to conflict, specifically bombings.

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Imagine a 3D printer creating prosthetic arms in the middle of a remote village in Africa. No, this isn’t a scene from a sci-fi movie. It is really happening in Yida, South Sudan thanks to Mick Ebeling and the team at Not Impossible Labs.

Not Impossible Labs’ mission statement is to change the world through technology and story. Mick shares, “We look for things that people need on the planet, especially things that slant to where technology can help to solve the problems. Then we will come up with low cost, affordable, pragmatic solutions, and make these available to people.” It’s not only prosthetics they create, that’s just one of many things they do. The team is working on a wide array of projects including helping the deaf, and those with cerebral palsy.

Three years ago the team came to South Sudan with MAF and launched the world’s first 3D printing prosthetic laboratory. They flew to Yida, travelled to the Nuba Mountians in Sudan and worked alongside Dr Tom Catena, an American doctor and the only physician working in the area. These passgengers truly have to rely on MAF to transport them safely across the country, through war torn villages. Their first recipient was a fourteen year old boy named Daniel.

Two years earlier, Daniel’s village was bombed. During the attack he hid behind a tree which saved his life, but he lost both of his arms in the bombing. He lost the ability to do so many things that a regular teenage boy should do. He was at such a low point in his life that he said he would have rather died than have lost both arms.

In 2013 Mick travelled to Africa to print a prosthetic arm for him and after two long years, Daniel could finally feed himself again, throw a ball again, be a playful child again.  Not only did they deploy a prosthetic arm for Daniel, but they provided 3D printing training to ten young men from the village. They gave them printers, laptops, and supplies to continue printing prosthetic arms after they were gone.

Fast forward to the present, and you will find Mick and his team on an MAF flight from Juba up to Yida and back again to continue the work. Mick explains, “Three years have passed and we have refined the prosthetic arm, we’ve made it better. The arm we can print today has changed dramatically in terms of what it can do. Its functionality has improved greatly. But what is really advanced is that we have created a way for the arm to deploy, from nothing to a fully wearable arm, in less than four hours.

“Before it used to take 16 to 20 (or even more) hours, but that was only if electricity was consistent and if you didn’t lose any prints. Now we have cut out the factors that made it more challenging.”

On this particular trip the team served people from both South Sudan and Sudan. There is a big need for prosthetics in Yida and the Nuba Mountains. People in these locations are suffering from conflict, there is a high degree of amputation here. Hence there is a great need and a great yearning for deploying these prosthetics into refugee camps.

Over the course of their time in Yida the team deployed five prosthetic arms. They also trained two guys from the Nuba Moutains and were able to send them back with additional arms for them to deploy. One of the recipients this time was Saida. She lives with her husband, two sons and her daughter, along with her daughter’s husband and their two children. Saida is originally from Nuba and lost her arm many years ago due to the violence still plaguing her region today.

Another one of the receipts was Abrahim, who comes from a very large family in the Nuba Mountains. Abrahim recently required an amputation which was performed by Dr Tom Catena, along with two anesthesiologists Isaac and Mandi.  What was encouraging to the team was that Isaac and Mandi are locals who were first trained by Not Impossible in 2013 and again in 2016 to deploy the prosthetics.

Lesley from Not Impossible shares “It was quite serendipitous for everyone to meet again in this way!” The team also printed a new prosthetic for Daniel.

It was a real honour for MAF to be able to fly the team. Imagine 3D printing prosthetics in the middle of Africa for amputees who need a new limb.  What an innovative and advanced way to reach and transform isolated people.

Story and Photos By Karyn Ball

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