Like most Timorese, staff and trainees at the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) youth entrepreneurship hub Knua Juventude Fila Liman (KJFL) have halted most face to face operations to adjust to radically new circumstances.
The experience is however providing Timor-Leste with locally designed solutions to the challenges of Covid-19.
One major advancement by KJFL has come through its four three-dimensional (3D) printers, purchased in 2019 and 2020. The next generation of manufacturing technology, the printer has the capacity to make nearly anything depending on the materials and size.
Seeing a need for locally sourced PPE for frontline staff as the crisis emerged, KJFL began researching open-source (free) software codes to 3D-print frames for face-shields used by healthcare workers. NGO Catalpa International brought together technology company Similie and Dili International School, who also own 3D printers. All three organisations are collaborating with UNDP to increase face shield production.
“We were in contact with technology companies and NGOs in Timor-Leste and the Ministry of Health about how to best collaborate in the Covid-19 response,” said Joao Maria Tapel, Project Assistant and Learning Event Facilitator at KJFL.
Each printer needs around two hours to print one face shield frame – the visors are inserted using adapted plastic document binder sheets. “Given the urgency of the situation we sped up the process of production and planned to order more filaments,” Maria Tapel said.
KJFL initially printed several models to test, then used feedback to selected the most suitable model. Partner organization Catalpa International – also distributing face shields – used the same model.
“The model we chose was from a Swedish group ‘3D Verkstan’, because the design was more efficient to use, and many health professionals recommended it as more convenient, smaller and easy to use and the visor could be replaced easily,” said Julio Fernandes Pinto, Green Building Design Consultant for the Accelerator Lab.
Operating for over 10 hours per day, the UNDP’s four printers were able to produce over 120 face shields that were handed over to the Ministry of Health in less than a week. They are continuing production at a rate of around 150 per week.
Other KJFL staff such as Business Trainer and Mentor Silvia de Araujo are also busy helping KJFL’s young entrepreneurs on track with business planning training so that they can be ready when restrictions ease. Those working in the agriculture sector were advised on how they could also assist with Timor-Leste’s food security during the Covid-19 state of emergency.
This adds to the existing locally-sourced hand-sanitiser initiative which KJFL and the Accelerator Lab team are working on with the National University of Timor-Leste.
The KJFL and AccLab team are also helping recruit National UN Volunteers (UNV) that will initially act as enumerators in rural municipalities, collecting social, economic and health data to assist the Covid-19 response.
“We have been working long hours, just taking breaks while the machines are printing,” said Maria Tapel, adding “this was a great opportunity for us to test the capacity of the 3D printers and see the potential for future use.”
The next challenge for the KJFL team in 3D printing will be procurement of essential filaments – the raw plastic materials for printing – from Australia and Malaysia. They are also working on technical designs and a prototype for hands-free hand-washing stations.
Much of KJFL’s planned trainings will have to be moved online. “We are now re-organising to continue our financial literacy training that was being generously supported by the New Zealand government before the interruption to their volunteer service,” said Maria Tapel.
Internet access is still limited in Timor-Leste so KJFL is also researching ways to provide needs-based internet access to training and online services amongst their youth entrepreneurs.
As the situation improves gradually and Timor-Leste’s resilience increases, these discoveries and forced adaptations will provide the KJFL team with more capacity to respond to its existing mandate and the challenges of the post-Covid-19 world.