Rwandan genocide survivor – Claudine Humure on changing prosthetics for the developing world

Rwandan genocide survivor – Claudine Humure on changing prosthetics for the developing world
7 min read

Claudine Humure is a remarkable Rwandan genocide survivor whose story includes losing a leg to cancer and falling in love with prosthetic design.

Claudine attended Sonrise School in Rwanda for her primary and part of her secondary education. She moved to the U.S.  for the rest of her education thanks to the support of an organization called Partners In Health (PIH) and its worldwide mission “to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair.” In June 2013, she graduated from Dana Hall High School in Wellesley, MA.

“During my senior year of high school, I did a senior project with a prosthetic company called Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics. My time with Next Step introduced me to a different side of prosthesis that I had never seen before as an amputee who used a prosthetic leg on a daily basis. While at Next Step, I was able to observe how the prosthetists interacted with amputees, how they made prosthetic sockets in their workshop and I was even given a chance to build a below the knee prosthetic socket under supervision. With this amazing experience, I left Next Step inspired.”

Claudine at Next Step Bionics & Prosthetics

Claudine started looking into programs that would help teach her more about prosthetic limbs and how they work. She was offered an internship at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital where she worked as a comprehensive rehabilitation intern.

“While there I interacted with different new amputees, especially those who were victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing.”

During her second year at Wheaton College, Claudine was offered another internship with the Biomechatronics group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Media Lab through the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP). While at MIT, she came up with the idea of designing an adjustable prosthetic socket for above the knee amputees using Autodesk software, Fusion 360, and Autodesk took interest.

Claudine is currently a senior at Wheaton College in Norton Massachusetts studying biology and business.

  • Tell us about your desire for designing prosthetics for the developing world and what this means for you.

“It means prosperity, a growing economy, a rebirth both for the individual and his/her family and most importantly a chance at a better life. Sadly, many people with disabilities in developing countries are looked down on and considered incapable of accomplishing various important tasks such as attending school or holding jobs at certain organizations. Designing prosthetic limbs for amputees in developing countries is about creating awareness in the society. It is not only about providing the individuals with the independence they deserve, but it is also about healing them and educating the communities in which they live. In many developing countries, people with disabilities are most often discriminated against and are forced to live in isolated areas. With great technology that can allow us to digitally design assistive devices like prosthetic limbs, amputees and other physically handicapped people will be able to regain their independence which will hopefully help reduce the stigma surrounding disability.”

  • What are some of the challenges you have had to face as an African woman in STEM, and how did you deal with them?

“My days as an African woman in STEM are mostly spent on the Wheaton College, MA campus. As a scientist, I have also worked with many engineers. The more I dive into science and engineering, the more I realize how there are very few African Women who pursue these fields. Fortunately, I have not met many challenges in terms of finding an internship or finding the resources I need to get my work done as an African woman. However, not seeing many people in this field who share the same background as me is a bit discouraging and at the same time a driving factor to work hard and show the world that although not often seen, African women can excel in any STEM field.”

  • What was it like working for Autodesk?

“Working for Autodesk was an enriching experience. I learned a lot and made many wonderful connections that I believe will last a lifetime. It’s been a great way for me to be exposed to the best and new technology in the world. Sitting in an office at Autodesk feels like sitting in the future. There are many amazing things that are being created at this company and I am not sure if the world is ready for what’s coming next.”

  • How do you think the field of prosthetics can transform Rwanda?

“As a person who grew up in Rwanda where prostheses are almost nonexistent, to say that the field of prosthetics is needed in the country would be an understatement. The field of prosthetics has a great potential to transform Rwanda in a positive way both economically and socially. With prosthetic limbs, the country can gain more independent people which for Rwanda will mean more individuals who can easily go to school and therefore help contribute to the economic development of the country. Considering the 1994 Genocide that left a large number of the Rwandan population handicapped, the country has many amputees and handicapped people in general who spend their days on the streets begging for a living. For a continued prosperous future, Rwanda needs prosthetic limbs now more than ever before as one way to support their handicapped population. Rwanda’s amputee population continues to increase today due to accidents and infectious diseases that lead to amputations and various other tragedies. In addition, the field of prosthetics can transform Rwanda by creating awareness and helping the current leaders of the country realize the importance of investing in their handicapped communities.”

  • What is the most important thing you are working on right now, and how are you making this happen?

“Right now, I am working on developing an adjustable prosthetic socket for above the knee amputees in developing countries. I am doing this with the support from Autodesk and MIT Media Lab.”

  • There are many young women looking up to you right now. What’s your advice for them?

“Find what you love to do and give it all you can give. This might require some changes in your life style and prioritizing. You might have to give up time for one habit so you can adapt another. Perhaps, my other greatest advice would be to not let your socioeconomic status or the failures in your life keep you from dreaming and working towards your goals. Dreams can come true, and I believe that in dreaming our passions reveal themselves.”