A helping hand

Professional Staff from The University of Queensland’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences often hear about the effects of viruses such as dengue through their work with researchers, but a recent team building exercise gave them a hands-on experience. School Manager Mark Starkey describes the experience.

It’s nice to give someone a helping hand, but professional staff in School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences have gone further and literally built 17 prosthetic hands for amputees in the developing world.

More than 50 staff built the prostheses as part of an unusual corporate team building activity.

UQ was the first university in Queensland to take part in the Helping Hands facilitated program.

Using only Allen keys, their wits, team skills, and an instruction manual, staff were given a bag of parts and asked to use their non-dominant hands (if they were right-handed, they had to use their left hands) to build prosthetic hands from 30 pieces of plastic and metal.

They needed to cooperate with other team members to create the finished product, which was placed in a case decorated by course participants, and accompanied by a personal note and a ‘selfie’ photograph of the team members to be given to amputee clients.

Head of school Professor Paul Young said the School was pleased to support the activity, which would enable prosthetics recipients to sign their names, hold a toothbrush or drink from a mug for the first time.

“It really resonated with me, because of my dengue research in tropical zones,” he said.

“I have come across amputees in hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City as a result of landmines, and visited locations in Cambodia and Vietnam that still carry warnings about the dangers of land mines.”


Course participant Be Dong said she felt privileged to take part in the activity.

“It was extremely hard to hold back the tears as I felt both a physical and emotional connection,” she said.

“My late father was Cambodian and my mother is Vietnamese and we fled Vietnam as refugees on my dad’s fishing boat when I was three years old.

“Like Paul, I have also come across victims and amputees of these landmines when my husband and I first visited Vietnam many years ago.

“To have been given an opportunity to contribute to such a worthy cause, has truly been a life-changing experience.”

Facilitator Matt Henricks, who is the founder and CEO of Helping Hands, said the artificial mechanical hands would be donated to people – many of who are landmine victims – in countries such as Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan this year.

“This activity enabled participants in just a few hours to make a real and lasting contribution to 17 other peoples’ lives,” he said.

“There are 10 million active landmines in 60 countries, and 20 landmine accidents each month – one every 20 minutes,” he said.

“Of the 300,000 landmine-related amputees globally, about 20 per cent of these are children attracted by bits of metal sticking out of the ground from wars and conflicts.” 

Mr Henricks said as a result of the additional hands made at UQ, the program had now achieved a total of 7904 artificial hands to be donated to people around the globe, and hoped to reach a target of 10,000 hands by the end of 2017.

Media: Professor Paul Young, p.young@uq.edu.au, +61 7 336 54622.

Thanks to Jan King, Faculty of Science Engagement Unit, for her assistance in preparing this item and to Ho Vu for the images.

Last updated:
1 August 2016