In 2019, Elly Savatia and Emmanuel Mulengwa, both Global Minimum alumni, connected during robot build preparations for the 2019 First Global Competition representing Kenya. They built Wema the robot that participated in the robotics Olympics in Dubai, the United Emirates where Emmanuel won the outstanding global award as a technical mentor for the team. They later collaboratively worked on several projects, writing applications, exploring and applying for multiple opportunities during the night and that is how Sekani was born. Here is their journey as innovators trying to solve problems in our communities:
While volunteering with Global Minimum and Young Scientist Kenya(YSK), reaching out to different schools in multiple counties in Kenya, it came to our attention that deaf students are usually present in the audiences and we had to find alternative methods of communicating. Like via Pen and paper usually to ask and respond to questions after presentations.
We conducted further research to better understand the population distribution of people with hearing disabilities. According to the WHO Fact Sheet as of 20th March 2019, over 5 percent of the world’s population implying about 466 million people suffer disabling hearing loss (432 million adults and 34 million children). In Kenya, the 2019 census results show that the country has about 2.3 million people who are deaf, people who have adversely been alienated with the inaccessibility of information.
One evening, while brainstorming on this problem we decided to explore the possibilities of machine learning and artificial intelligence to attempt to solve it. We dived into Machine Learning and got deeper into the Neural Network to understand how we can achieve this goal of having software that can offer 2-way communication between the deaf and the hearing. And that’s how Sekani came to be.
In December 2019, we participated in the Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge calling for young people innovating around ideas addressing equity engagement, education and training and employment and entrepreneurship. We collaborated with Purity Kwamboka, a YALI alumnus, who is now our Chief Branding Officer and proposed Sekani, a smartphone and desktop application to help bridge the communication and linguistic barrier between the deaf, hearing and hard of hearing community.
Sekani’s mission is to provide an avenue for interaction between the Deaf community and hearing individuals. Sekani also provides a voice for them to communicate their desires, ambitions and concerns. Among our goals is to improve the quality of education and transition from school to work for over 34 million deaf children. The name Sekani is of African origin meaning “ merriment and joy. “
In April 2020, we were announced among the top 15 finalist teams shortlisted from over 417 applications around the country. A panel of expert judges reviewed and selected the top 15. Our Project – SEKANI was one of the finalists of the Generation Unlimited (GenU) Youth Challenge organized by UNICEF and UNDP in Kenya. The Bootcamp was scheduled to take place in Nairobi in April 2020 but given the recent developments of the Covid-19 (CoronaVirus) pandemic, UNICEF decided to postpone the Bootcamp until August where we took part in an online Bootcamp where we were guided on how to refine and pitch ideas.
After the Bootcamp, we submitted our pitch videos and the five most promising ideas were selected by the judges. We received a USD $1,000 grant, expert advice and mentorship on how to improve our innovation further. Later the judges nominated two teams and our project was selected to proceed to the global level- UNICORN. Here two teams from 40 countries were competing and an international panel of judges will then select the top five global solutions.
All of our team members are senior students in the university, Emmanuel Mulengwa studying Geospatial Engineering at the Technical University of Kenya, Purity Kwamboka taking nursing at University of Nairobi and Elly taking a gap year.
We are all close to this group and have interacted with people with disabilities, hence this is a field that we intend to continue working on. Our motivation comes from directly witnessing the struggles of deaf and how to help children, youth and generally people with disabilities to succeed in being able to be part of the education system, labour market or any social inclusion.
Sekani wants to be able to give them a possibility to have a better and more independent future, by revolutionizing communication, learning and translating sign language. We are excited to build a solution that will have a positive impact on the community.