MIT Student Helps Survivors in Sierra Leone by Revolutionizing Prosthetic Limbs

Earlier this month, Kelvin Doe, a teenage inventor from Sierra Leone, caused a stir on the internet when he was announced the youngest winner of MIT’s Visiting Practitioner Program. But his mentor in that program, David Sengeh, is a sensation in his own right, a 24-year-old MIT student who’s working to revolutionize prosthetic limbs as part of a bid to transform the lives of people in his home country.

Sengeh is a PhD candidate who hails from Bo Town, Sierra Leone. Many in his small African country were the victims of forced amputation as a wartime strategy used to engender fear and compliance.  Though prostheses were made available to the country’s survivors, Sengeh found that they weren’t often used because people complained that they weren’t comfortable. As this video from THINKR shows,  Sengeh set about redesigning them in a way that makes them a more natural fit for the people who need them.

In an interview with TakePart, Sengeh says his desire to heal people and study science began very early. "I always thought I was going to be a medical doctor. And I followed my uncle [who’s a doctor] to the operating theater, so I’ve seen many operations and I would dress up and stand right next to him as he did all the surgeries. I thought I was going to med school. If I stayed in Sierra Leone, I would have gone to med school."

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Instead, he headed to Harvard to study biomedical sciences and engineering. While there, he and a friend founded the NGO Global Minimum (GMin), to better the lives of his countrymen in a very hands-on way. During its first summer in operation, Sengeh and 10 of his friends personally distributed malaria-preventing bed nets to some 9,000 people.

But Sengeh didn’t stop there.  GMin also established a program named, Innovate Salone, which challenges Sierra Leone's kids to come up with creative innovations that solve global problems. That’s how Sengeh first met his protégé, Kelvin Doe, a 15-year-old who taught himself how to make homemade batteries and generators in order to provide his family with electricity.

Sengeh says, “We give students a platform to devise prototypes and solutions in ways that have impact. The goal was to extend this advantage to people in Sierra Leone. I want to enable young people to create solutions in their community.”

Though he’s only 24, Sengeh says his desire to solve global problems is hardly satisfied and part of that mission is to provide access to education for those who often find themselves without it. “Education should really be a universal thing. An educated world is better for everybody really…so you can create different opportunities for different people to thrive and come up with solutions that will impact themselves and their communities…That should really be the goal, that’s the drive.”

Do you think more educational opportunities should be made available to potential students in developing countries? Let us know what you think in the Comments.

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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for Email Andri | @andritweets |