Wei Xan Lim (Emmelynn), 25, from Malaysia, is a technology enthusiast with a vision for an inclusive future. Frustrated at the prohibitive cost of prosthetics for the country’s most excluded communities, she set out to change things – using open-source designs to produce 3D-printed limbs. But not one to set the bar low, Emmelynn also found a way to make her work eco-friendly: by using recycled plastic in the production process. Her team, Circular Future, have lowered the price of prosthetics by 10x and are changing national attitudes towards women working in STEM.
While interning at an indigenous rights charity, COAC (Center for Orang Asli Concerns), I learnt that there’s communities out there that need prosthetics, but just can’t afford to buy them.
I follow a lot of technology on social media. Seeing how NGOs were using 3D printers to give people access to prosthetics inspired me. Here in Malaysia, high-tech prosthetics can cost upwards of 10,000 ringit (£1,750). For our indigenous communities, that prices them out of being able to use their bodies for the simple tasks that most of the world are able to do. It’s something that should be their right.
So I went to ask them – if we made a prototype, would you like to try it? The answer was yes. We formed Circular Future, a team of Raleigh Malaysia volunteers, students from local universities as well as a few with expertise in engineering and plastics and got to work learning how to make prosthetics.
Using open-source designs that anyone can find on the internet, we print them and then find ways to make them better. We do what’s called stress testing, experimenting with the designs to find the flaws: throwing it at the wall, burning the material so we can see what we can improve.
When we took it to the community, they treated it as a toy because they’d never been able to use this kind of thing before. We taught them how to put it on and how to control it. They were very happy, and that made me happy – all I’ve done is a simple thing that’s giving them the power to do things like shaking hands and drinking a cup of water again.
Making sure that our work is sustainable is very important to me. Before I joined Raleigh, I didn’t give any consideration to what I was using. But I quickly noticed that volunteers would try and cut down on their plastic use and embraced this in my life. The next steps for our project will involve partnering with salons and restaurants to give their shampoo or drinking bottles another life.
We young people have innovation and creativity on our side: two things that in the fight for climate justice are very important. The combination of open-source design and recycled plastics mean that our work can be replicated anywhere in the world. It’s really cool because I was inspired by others – and now I can become the inspiration of others.
I feel honoured to be chosen as the Action not Excuses ambassador for Zero Waste. For those young people who are considering joining, I will just say …. stop considering and do it! If not this time, then when? You alone can impact many others. And then slowly, slowly, together with others, you can support each other and become a powerful force.