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Education Features

OLV students build hands for service project


The students of OLV Elementary School learned a few things from a guest speaker – not everyone is as fortunate as them, everyone is different, and even kids can make a difference in someone’s life.

Matt Campana, founder of Hands of Gratitude, gave a presentation at OLV Elementary School in Lackawanna on Sept. 26. His company makes and delivers prosthetic hands to people in developing countries. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

On Sept. 26, Matt Campana, founder of Hands of Gratitude, visited the Lackawanna school to explain how he makes prosthetic hands for children in developing countries. The students then helped build hands for some of those kids.

The World Health Organization estimates up to 40 million people around the world require prosthetics, yet more than 75 percent of developing countries do not have a prosthetics training program in place. Thousands of children live without a limb due to disease, trauma, cancer, birth defects, or by accidentally activating a land mine. 

“It is so cool what you’re doing today and so needed,” Campana told the pre-K through eighth grade students before a video presentation where they heard from kids who have received hands from Campana’s company. “How amazing is that? That we have this technology that can be life-changing to someone in two hours of your time.”

Campana brought the already made parts of 3D printed prosthetic hands and allowed teams of students to assemble them, while the younger students wrote letters and drew pictures for the kids who will receive them. The parts take five hours to print and two hours to assemble. 3D printing technology provides an inexpensive way to change lives instantly.

Campana founded Hands of Gratitude nearly six years ago.

“My background is in corporate training and development with a passion for programs that give back. And I wanted a medical based activity. And I saw online when I was doing research, a video of a 3D printed prosthetic hand, and couldn’t believe that the technology advanced so much that we’re printing appendages for people. So, I was so intrigued that I reached out to the engineer that posted the video, acquired a couple devices, put them together, took them apart, and created the program around that.”

Currently there’s no dexterity with the fingers, the hands simply open and close, but the technology constantly advances. This is already the fourth design of the hands.

Teachers at OLV Elemenatary School help some of the students assemble prosthetic hands to be delivered to Guatemala.Hands of Gratitude gave a presentation at the Lackawanna school on Sept. 26 (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

“It’s life changing,” Campana said. “It puts people back to work. You can drive a stick shift or a steering wheel. We have some people that just simply use it to push a shopping cart and take items off the shelves. So, it depends on the person on how they choose to use it. And it’s as much about the mental aspects as it is about the physical aspects, for sure.”

Campana hopes the students appreciate what they have and what they have to offer the world.

“I want them to feel grateful for everything that they have, certainly,” he said. “I want them to feel like they can contribute at any age. They can give back. Anybody can do anything for anyone else at any time. I want them to know that they’re empowered to help people. I want them to understand the importance of technology in all of this. So, I just want them to know they can make a difference.”

Service to the greater community is a huge part of what OLV School, founded by Venerable Nelson Baker, is all about.

 “To do service and show gratitude? Absolutely. We’re grounded in that and look for different opportunities to help others,” said Principal Mary Doyle-Szlosek. “We do have some other activities similar to this planned. We’ve got a service club that meets outside of the school hours, but service to others is part of Father Baker’s legacy and so we just carry that on.”

Observing her students, Doyle-Szlosek was pleased by their reactions as they read the profiles of the kids who will be using the hands they built.

The prekindergarten class of OLV Elemenatary School display their wellwishes to the recipients of prosthetic hands that the older students made. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

“The kids, their comments are very insightful,” said Doyle-Slosek. “They said, how can this be a happy, fun project when we’re doing it for somebody that doesn’t have a hand? They were really putting themselves in a compassionate place and I had to help them understand that this is joyful because we are going to bring joy to somebody else. But the presentation that Matt gave leading up to this to help them understand the significance that this will make in somebody else’s life was very powerful for these kids.”


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