Printing a Better Future for Hondurans With Disabilities

After using 3D printing to change the life of a fellow student born without a hand, a team of UNITEC Honduras students and their professor started Guala*, an non-profit organization that builds low-cost 3D–printed prosthetics for people unable to afford traditional methods. 

UNITEC Honduras Biomedical Engineering student Ricardo Borjas always knew he wanted to make a difference. Growing up, he volunteered for different causes, but he always found himself wanting to do more. Encouraged by one of his professors, Ricardo wrote a research paper on the potential of using 3D printers to build prosthetic limbs. The paper, which was later published in a renowned international engineering journal, eventually laid the foundation for Guala.  

Three thousand miles north of Honduras, Melvin Cruz was attending an internship in the United States and was researching 3D printing technologies, when he came across Ricardo’s paper. Melvin dreamed about building a prosthetic hand for his friend Marco Mejia, a fellow student born without a hand due to a genetic defect. After contacting Ricardo about the idea, they recruited Elena Aguilera and Miguel Rivera, fellow UNITEC Biomedical Engineering students, and Alicia Sierra, a faculty member of the program, to help them build the prosthetic hand for Marco.   

“When we presented Marco with his new hand in July 2016, we were so excited to see him manipulate objects with both hands very naturally,” recalls Ricardo. “Seeing the difference this low-cost prosthetic made in his life, it seemed unfair and selfish to not do this for more people. That was when we decided to become an non-profit organization.” 

Today, Guala works with different local and international organizations to build and donate prosthetics, while raising awareness on the full possibilities of 3D printing. In two years, the team has printed 24 prosthetic limbs for people who could otherwise not afford them. One of the team’s notable accomplishments is an innovation lab to build prosthetic limbs for returning migrants who had suffered accidents on their journey to the United States, a project that was funded by the United Nations, the United Nations Development Program, and the Tegucigalpa Chamber of Commerce.  

“I love Guala because it combines my two passions: biomedical engineering and helping others,” says cofounder Elena Aguilera. “My greatest motivation is being pioneers; innovators disrupting the way things are done in Honduras. The needs are great, but so it the talent we have.”  

The team’s vision is to become a self-sustainable organization that not only prints prosthetics but also makes substantial, scalable contributions to society and the environment by promoting and implementing 3D technology solutions in schools, universities and hospitals.  

*Guala means “hand” in the Honduran indigenous Lencalanguage.