Making helping hands | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Making helping hands


WORLD Radio - Making helping hands

A high school teacher is equipping students to build prosthetic limbs for people in developing nations around the world

Photo credit to Myrna Brown

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, March 22nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: problem solving on a global scale.

In the developing world, an estimated 30 million people need prosthetic or orthotic devices.

Unlike amputees in the western world, traumatic injury, landmines, and diseases like leprosy often result in amputation. And nine out of ten of those have no access to any form of prosthetics.

REICHARD: Well, there’s a high school teacher in Alabama who challenges his students to become global problem solvers and turn those statistics into opportunities to serve. WORLD’s Myrna Brown has the story.

ANNOUNCER: Come to the front office for dismal please.

MYRNA BROWN, CORRESPONDENT: It’s the end of the school day at Chickasaw Middle/High School.


But students in Brian Copes’ classroom are just getting started. They’re busy putting pins in ankles and assembling legs, prosthetic legs. Copes is their Career Tech or Shop teacher.

BRIAN COPES: If you look at my classroom, we do have hand tools, we do have power tools, but we also have computers. Not only computers, we have 3D printers. And we’re using 3D printers in the classroom to actually 3D print prosthetic legs.

BROWN TO COPES: This is where it starts? This is where it starts.

In 20-20, the city assistant school superintendent recruited Copes to come to the small, poor, urban community.

COPES: The kids were really never engaged. Nobody's ever really championed them and showed them they can change the world. They can change lives. She said I need you to bring your projects here to Chickasaw and help change a community.

So Copes started the after-school club called Lifechangers. Every Tuesday and Thursday Copes transforms his classroom into an assembly line. Many of his students had never even held a power drill before. Today, 17-year-old Benjamin Cruz is Copes’ helper, teaching a 12 year old how to build legs.

BENJAMIN CRUZ: So, at the moment he’s pushing in our little pins to be inside our rubber, basically what would be the cartilage in your ankle to be able to move.

and how to build character.

CRUZ: He’s just a seventh grader. Most seventh graders are just playing on their games, just hanging out. He’s doing stuff to help people.

On the other side of the classroom, standing near one of the school’s 3D printers, Copes teaches other students about additive manufacturing. It’s a process that creates a physical object, like a prosthetic leg, from a digital design.

COPES: So what we’re seeing here… we’ve got two components for a leg set being printed. We’ve got both a lower knee and an ankle. It uses onyx, which is a carbon fiber reinforced plastic. The other printers will print the upper knee and the foot.

After that dose of Engineering 101, Copes then explains why the same verse is always 3D printed on every prosthetic leg.

COPES: We have Isaiah 40:31 which says, "They will run and not be weary and they will walk and not faint." Here in a public school, I’m not allowed to preach, but I can share Christian values. We’re told to share Christ the way that we live.

After the legs are assembled, students get them ready for travel. But they aren’t just shipped off to distant locations on a map.

COPES: We just got nine more videos. Nine. We’ve got about 35 people in Tulum, Mexico that want new legs.

In three days, Copes and his students will be in Tulum, Mexico. The team will meet and fit amputees with the prosthetics they built with their own hands.

COPES: We’re trying to teach the kids how to be productive citizens. How to give of themselves to help others.

Benjamin Cruz remembers his first trip with Mr. Copes to Honduras. There, he watched a 25-year-old walk again.

CRUZ: I’ll give him this, he didn’t cry. He was very thankful, but he didn’t cry. A lot of people who have walked have cried a lot.

Student Amoriey Davis Hicks remembers the tears of joy shed for a young girl she met while in El Salvador.

AMORIEIY DAVIS HICKS: We were all busy fitting people and all caught up with that. And you just heard this hopping, coming into the church and all of a sudden we all turned around and it was an 11-year-old child.

The little girl was named Natalie. When she was nine, part of her arm and leg were severed in a car accident on her way to school.

HICKS: And our first initial reaction was that we weren’t going to be able to help her at all since all of our legs were mainly for adults. But at the end of the day it was a complete miracle that we were able to help her.

But 15-year-old Ariana Campos says, not all of their stories have happy endings. Campos grew up in Mexico. She also speaks Spanish and English, so she helps translate on the trips, explaining to people what they’re there to do. But sometimes, the prosthetics don’t fit properly.

ARIANA CAMPOS: So I have to talk to those people that we can’t fit and I have to go through this process of helping them understand. Some people get mad. Some people get really sad.

Campos says those conversations are preparing her for a future in mental health.

CAMPOS: When they ask me, like what do you want to do when you grow up, I always say psychology. I want to do psycholog.

Already this year, the Lifechangers club has delivered 50 prosthetic legs. They’ve traveled to Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras. Four more trips are scheduled before the end of year.

We have sixteen minutes, so get ready to put stuff back and clean up before we leave.

Back in Mr. Copes’ classroom, Benjamin Cruz takes a moment to reflect as he packs up the last prosthetic leg.

CRUZ: Truthfully, I wasn’t excited to go to Chickasaw when I moved here. It wasn’t a great school.

But today, proudly wearing a sweatshirt with the word Chickasaw across his chest, Cruz says he can’t imagine being anywhere else.


Reporting for WORLD, In Chickasaw, Alabama. I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD: If you’d like to see Brian Copes and his students in action, Myrna produced a companion piece that also airs today on WORLD Watch, our video news program for students. We’ll post a link to that story in today’s transcript.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...