This is a cool kid named Ethan.
This is his pretty cool hand.
And the story behind cool Ethan and his cool hand is one of those stories that makes you say, “I’m really glad to be alive right now because this kind of thing could not have happened at any other point in history.”
It’s a story about YouTube videos and 3D printers and random Internet connections. But more than that, it’s all about how one single act of kindness can lead to another. Which leads to another. Which leads to another.
And before you know it, those kindnesses (along with that technology) can make pretty amazing things happen.
It all started back in 2011.
Check out the video below for the full story, or scroll down to check out the six acts of kindness featured and how it goes beyond just Ethan’s story to help hundreds of kids like him.
First act of kindness: Let’s make a finger.
A man named Ivan Owen posted a fun video on YouTube of himself wearing a metal puppet hand he had made as a costume. Thousands of miles away, a South African carpenter named Richard who had lost his finger in a woodworking accident saw the video and was intrigued. He reached out to Owen to discuss what he made.
The two ended up spending a year collaborating on building a replacement finger.
Second act of kindness: Let’s make a hand.
The mother of a 5-year-old boy named Liam heard about their project and asked if they could also try to build a small hand for her son who had been born with no fingers. After a lot of hard work and the idea to use a 3D printer, they ultimately developed the first ever 3D-printed mechanical hand. It was badass, and so was Liam.
Third act of kindness: Let’s share what we know.
Here’s where it gets even more interesting.
Instead of patenting the design for this new hand (can you imagine how much money they could have made?) in January 2013, Owen generously and unselfishly decided to publish the design files as open-source and public domain so that anyone, anywhere could download the files and use a 3D printer to make the same type of prosthetic.
Fourth act of kindness: Let’s connect the dots.
Several months later, a professor named Jon Schull (featured in the video) stumbled upon a video of Liam and his 3D-printed hand and saw that people were leaving comments under it, offering up their own 3D-printing skills to help make more hands.
So Schull came up with bright idea to start a Google+ group and an online map for them to share their locations. That way, people who were seeking prosthetics (namely hands) could find the closest volunteer.
He left a comment on the video and invited people to join him in the Google group and put a “pin” on the map marking their location if (1) they wanted to print hands or (2) they knew where a hand was needed.
Fifth act of kindness: Let’s build a community.
Well, it worked. By the end of the first day, there were seven pins. In a few weeks, there were hundreds. And the numbers kept growing and growing.
It turns out there weren’t just a lot of people in need of prosthetic limbs, but there were a lot of people who were able and willing to make them!
That simple idea grew into what is today known as Enable, a nonprofit organization and community made up of teachers, students, engineers, scientists, doctors, designers, parents, children, artists, philanthropists, coders, and everyone in between creating 3D-printed hands and arms and giving them away to those in need of an upper-limb assistive device … for free.
Sixth act of kindness: Let’s make it free.
That’s right. Enable gives away the 3D prosthetics at no cost to the recipient.
Those six kind decisions have now made it possible for hundreds of children to receive prosthetics.
And remember our cool kid Ethan? He was one of them. His mom stumbled upon the community online, reached out, and Enable ultimately helped Ethan get the hand that he now just can’t stop showing off.
His story (shown in the video above) isn’t just amazing because somehow something positive actually came out of a YouTube comment section. And it wasn’t just made possible because of the magic of 3D printing — although that, in and of itself, is pretty awe-inspiring.
It was made possible because of the kindness of the creators in the Enable community whose small devotion of resources and time can make kids like Ethan really, really happy.