Explosive devices and anti-personnel landmines have injured many people in Colombia. Commissioned by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM) responded by placing an orthopaedic technician on site. Together with SENA, Colombia’s National Training Service Centre, this master craftsman helped establish a training centre for orthopaedic technicians and artificial limb makers. One of the first to graduate, José Harrinson Zuluaga will shortly be teaching a class of his own. Zuluaga is pleased that in future he can work with these students to make better artificial limbs for landmine victims.
I studied industrial design. Over the years I came to realise just how many people in Colombia have been injured by landmines. And they all have to learn to live without a leg or some other limb. That’s not easy. And that’s what gave me the idea of designing a prosthetic limb as part of my final dissertation project. I was aware that most artificial limbs are expensive and imported, but are not fitted to the person who has to wear them. I wanted to do something about that.
Artificial limb makers have been working here for the past 20 or 30 years. But it is still more like buying a pair of shoes – the landmine victim gets a standard-size prosthetic limb, not one that is custom made. The pressure points and pain they generally cause can be worse than if they don’t wear one.
My role here will be to teach the subjects ergonomics and biomechanics. We analyse what the patient needs and then design a tailor-made technical solution – that might be a wheel chair, crutches, orthopaedic shoes or a prosthetic limb.
As a child I used to paint a lot. But my grandmother told me I would never earn any money doing that and so sort of forced my grandfather’s books on me – they were about medicine and anatomy. A perfect combination and ideal preparation for what I am passionate about doing today.
I believe Colombia could be a superpower. We have enough resources to finance infrastructure, education and culture – an ideal country. The conflict here is dividing us and driving us into poverty.