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The remarkable way 3D printers are saving lives in refugee camps

Refugee camps are usually seen as scenes of crisis. But a team of innovators wants to change that.

The remarkable way 3D printers are saving lives in refugee camps
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Ahmad's world went dark at age 22 when he was shot across the eyes during the Syrian civil war.

But two years later, a Syrian refugee named Asem came across a startup called Refugee Open Ware, where he learned to build Ahmad a customized echolocation device that fit over his hand.

The device uses vibrations to indicate how close objects are in his environment, and it's helping Ahmad walk on his own again.


"For two years, I haven't felt this feeling — where I walk and know what's in front of me," Ahmad said.

Ahmad's new echolocation device was built by a fellow refugee, all because of a startup called Refugee Open Ware. Photo from Refugee Open Ware.

The founders of Refugee Open Ware look at refugee camps and see more than devastation — they see possibility.

Asem, the man who built Ahmad's new device, is among the first of many refugees who are learning to 3D-print and code at Refugee Open Ware, a series of fabrication labs, or "fab labs," located in crisis areas. The company was founded by Dave Levin and Loay Malahmeh.

“We want to take the most advanced technology and put it in the hands of those who need it the most," Levin said.

Refugee Open Ware gives refugees access to digital manufacturing technologies.

The idea is to stock each Refugee Open Ware fab lab with laser cutters, vinyl cutters, milling machines, 3D printers, and scanners.

They'll also be packed with the kinds of things you'd find in any good woodworking or metal shop, like welding equipment, table saws, band saws, lathes, and handcrafting tools.

With 3D printers similar to these ones, trained individuals might print 3D prosthetics and supplies for their fellow refugees. Photo by Ultimaker.

While seemingly simple, this equipment opens up new possibilities for many displaced people, encouraging everything from creative play and learning for kids to simple repairs and skills training for adults.

The first Refugee Open Ware pilot program is now up and running in Amman, Jordan.

There have been more success stories like Ahmad's, too.

One comes from Asem himself, formerly a health care worker who lost a leg during a bombing before he ended up at Refugee Open Ware's facility in Amman. While in Amman, he made his own prosthetic leg with a 3D printer.

Another success story comes from a 6-year-old Yemeni boy.

After losing his hand in a house fire, the boy received a customized, 3D-printed hand from Refugee Open Ware team members, designed to emulate his favorite cartoon superhero, Ben 10. The hand, built with local tools and supplies, costs only $75.

The 6-year-old Yemeni boy sits next to Asem, a Syrian refugee who lost his leg as a paramedic in the war at age 19 and later became a prosthetic technician in Jordan. This photo was taken by Manar Bilal, the man who saved Asem's life. The two are now best friends. Photo by Manar Bilal, courtesy of Refugee Open Ware.

Up next for the program: setting up shop in Turkey and Kurdistan.

Right now, Levin and Malahmeh are also awaiting the necessary permit to build their first maker space at the Za'atari refugee camp on the Jordan-Syria border, staffed entirely by refugees.

It shouldn't be long, since they've already gotten the thumbs-up from King Abdullah II and Queen Rania.

The Za'atari refugee camp in northern Jordan is home to more than 81,000 Syrians. Photo by U.S. Government Works/Flickr.

There's no shortage of crises to attend to. But by providing new technology and tools, Refugee Open Ware might make refugee camps a space where those at the epicenter of a crisis can send out shock waves of good.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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In the hours before he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, then-President-elect Biden was sent a letter signed by 17 freshmen GOP members of the House of Representatives.

In sharp contrast to the 121 Republican House members who voted against the certification of Biden's electoral votes—a constitutional procedure merely check-marking the state certifications that had already taken place—this letter expresses a desire to "rise above the partisan fray" and work together with Biden as he takes over the presidency.

The letter reads:

Dear President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on the beginning of your administration and presidency. As members of this freshman class, we trust that the next four years will present your administration and the 117thCongress with numerous challenges and successes, and we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.

After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation's capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.