Thailand, 1982. Khao I Dang camp was home to 160,000 Cambodian refugees who had fled the Khmer Rouge regime. Among them were thousands of people with amputations, most of them landmine survivors.
Two French doctors, Jean-Baptiste Richardier and Claude Simonnot, decided to help by designing simple orthopedic devices made from inexpensive local materials that people were used to working with.
“The aim is to get the person back on their feet as quickly as possible after amputation. Their first steps can be taken between parallel bamboo bars, then with a pair of bamboo crutches for a child. A few weeks later, the person is fitted with a prosthesis made of leather, wood and steel, all materials that can still be found locally but are more durable."
—Isabelle Urseau, HI Rehabilitation Technical Director
This is how and why the first temporary bamboo artificial limbs were produced. Bamboo was used for the lower part of the prosthesis, known as the "pylon." The upper part was made of plaster strips reinforced with wood glue, and this part was regularly renewed. The whole device was lightweight, making it easier for the wearer to take their first steps.
HI is still in Cambodia today. Our teams continue to run rehabilitation projects, mainly at the Kampong Cham rehabilitation center.
2. Emilie was among the first people to be fitted with a bamboo prosthesis by HI
"In the camp, there was a workshop making a lot of noise and as soon as I was able to get around on crutches, I went to see what was going on there. In the workshop, I saw hammers, pieces of bamboo and iron rods. One of the workers saw me and explained: 'We’re making bamboo prostheses for children like you. They’ll be used for people who have been amputated because of landmines.'
I ran back to my parents, shouting: 'Mommy, there’s a workshop where they are making legs for children like me!'”
3. Bamboo can help move enormous bombs
HI's demining teams in Laos were recently alerted to the presence of a huge aerial bomb close to the river outside a small village in Phongsaly province. It was a bomb dropped by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Our colleagues used bamboo stalks to carry the bomb out of the village so it could be safely destroyed.
Since 2006, HI teams have destroyed more than 45,000 explosive devices in Laos.
4. Bamboo is a sustainable resource
Resistant and flexible, bamboo is available all over Bangladesh. In the Cox's Bazar refugee camp where HI is running rehabilitation projects, for example, the vast majority of shelters are made of bamboo.
It is a natural and sustainable material of choice for our teams. HI's physical therapists use bamboo to make different types of assistive devices—such as ramps and parallel bars—to help people with disabilities. The aim is to give the people we support the means to make and use these products themselves, without the need for significant resources or specialist facilities.
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