Saving the Manatee: A Conservation Mission to save Africa’s Sea Mammals

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African manatees are classed as a vulnerable species and are on the IUCN Red List. Photograph: Lucy Keith-Diagne/African Aquatic Conservation Fund

In many African countries, from Senegal down to Angola, the manatee is known as Mamy-Wata or the Sirena or a water spirit. It is a sea creature which can also be found in lakes, as well as on the ocean. There is a lot of myths surrounding the creature, and how difficult they are to find. There is also a lot of ideas surrounding their use in local medicines, with a high demand coming from Asia, to the point that they have now become endangered. This article on conservation efforts to save the manatee is from The Guardian. Enjoy!

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Once branded ‘rogue animals’, the elusive creatures were on the brink of extinction, but hope is rising for their survival

… For the past 14 years Keith-Diagne has been on a mission to protect the African manatee. There are an estimated 10,000 left, spread across 21 African countries, from the coast of Senegal down to Angola and inland to Chad. …

African manatees are classified as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. They face many threats, including entanglement in fishing nets and entrapment in dams. In some countries they are heavily poached.

… The animals are so elusive that many locals know them only from myths. In countries such as Senegal, where the animals are revered as auspicious water spirits, poaching is rare. But dams still pose a major threat: the cumbersome mammals can get trapped in narrow passageways and drown.

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Approximate distribution of the manatee in Africa

Keith-Diagne said local dam authorities have been receptive to her proposed modifications of the structures. Politicians have also come on board. In 2014, her husband, Tomas Diagne, also a biologist, successfully petitioned the government to set aside 275 hectares (679 acres) for an aquatic reserve. The area is now home to an estimated 100 manatees as well as hundreds of Adanson’s mud turtles – a species unique to the local lake. The couple are also helping the surrounding communities to develop an ecotourism industry.

Keith-Diagne’s conservation work has extended into other parts of Africa. With the help of a Pew Marine fellowship, she formed a network of nine biologists in Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo to document every manatee captured or killed over three years. The project has already identified one clear trend: Nigeria is a leader in manatee mortality.

Hunters can make up to $2,000 (£1,626) from a single catch in the country, where manatee meat is said to be beneficial for diabetics and their oil is thought to be cholesterol-free. In addition, their penises are believed to cure impotence, their ear bones to ward off bullets, and eyes believed to possess magical powers. The faeces left over in manatee intestines are dried and used to mend broken bones.

According to Nigerian myth, upon encountering a human, a manatee will tickle them until they laugh so hard they drown.

Rumours of manatees breaking fishing nets and capsizing canoes led to their classification as a “rogue animal” in the 1970s – an official classification for animals that threaten human livelihoods, such as crocodiles and hippopotami.

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The manatee

… [Edem] Eniang, [a professor of wildlife resource management at the University of Uyo in Nigeria] and his team often go undercover, posing as buyers to keep tabs on poachers and document manatee killings. They visit schools to teach the importance of conservation and they run TV and radio information campaigns. Such campaigns can and have made a difference. In Cameroon, education and awareness initiatives have pushed manatee hunting to its lowest level.

Aristide Takoukam, the director of the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organisation in Cameroon, gives frequent presentations at schools and organises field trips to Lake Ossa, a wildlife reserve created in 1948.

I want to teach them to see nature in a different way than their parents,” he says. “I want to show them that in animals, they can also find beauty.”

He also trains fishermen in how to make a living from bee farming and soap making instead of manatee hunting and with the help of an American ecotourism expert, is developing an industry around manatee sightseeing, complete with lakeside bungalows, kayaking and bird watching.

I want to show them that a manatee is worth more alive than dead,” he says. …

Win for Conservation as African Black Rhino Numbers Rise

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Several rhinoceroses (Source: ndtv.com)

This is encouraging news, and I could not pass on it. The full article is from The Guardian!

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Numbers of African black rhinos in the wild have risen by several hundred, a rare boost in the conservation of a species driven to near extinction by poaching.

Black rhinos are still in grave danger but the small increase – an annual rate of 2.5% over six years, has swollen the population from 4,845 in 2012 to an estimated 5,630 in 2018, giving hope that efforts put into saving the species are paying off.

The painstaking attempts to save the black rhino have included moving some individuals from established groups to new locations, increasing the species’ range and ensuring viable breeding populations, as well as protecting them through stronger law enforcement efforts. Numbers of all of the three subspecies of black rhino are now improving.

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Rhinos being sedated (Source: Getty images)

The continued slow recovery is a testament to the immense efforts made in the countries and a powerful reminder that conservation works,” said Grethel Aguilar, acting director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which compiles the global red list of species under threat.

[But] there is no room for complacency as poaching and illegal trade remain acute threats. It is essential that the ongoing anti-poaching measures and intensive, proactive population management continue, with support from national and international actors.”

The outlook for the other African rhino species is still troubled, according to the update to the red list published on Thursday.

White rhinos are more numerous in Africa but categorised by the IUCN as near-threatened. The outlook for them has worsened in recent years, driven by high levels of poaching in South Africa’s Kruger national park. White rhinos have larger horns than their black counterparts, making them more attractive to poachers, and they are easier to find as they prefer more open habitats.

Lobsters and Octopuses are Back in Kenya

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Map of Kenya

Pollution, overpopulation of some areas, as well as over-fishing have wreaked all sorts of havoc for the ecosystem of our planet. One such ecosystem being destroyed is the coral reef along the coasts of Africa. Below are excerpts from an article from the Guardian about Kenyan efforts to reclaim their coral reefs, and bring back the lobsters and octopuses. As the marine life is re-established, let’s hope the industrial fishermen stay away!

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African Lobsters (From South Africa – Source: WildOceans.com.au)

Three years ago, coral reef along the Kenyan coastline was almost totally destroyed in some areas. Rising surface sea temperatures had triggered devastating bleaching episodes for the fourth time in less than two decades, and with the whitening of coral came a dwindling of marine life. Overfishing only exacerbated the problem.

For coastal communities dependent on the sea for their livelihoods, the degradation of the coral reef and its effect on the marine ecosystem threatened to overturn an entire way of life. In some areas surveyed by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), as much as 60-90% of coral was destroyed.

A fightback was needed and so the institute began working with local communities to rehabilitate degraded coral reefs along the country’s coastline. Among the areas targeted was Wasini Island, a tiny strip of land off Kenya’s south-east coast. The results have been startling.

Women on the island have led an initiative to restore degraded coral that has shown how coral restoration techniques can revive marine ecosystems and create sustainable livelihoods for communities that depend on fishing and eco-tourism.

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Octopus (Source: Wikipedia)

The fish have started coming back since the restoration activities began,” says Nasura Ali, of the Wasini Beach Management Unit, which has about 250 members, of whom roughly 150 are women. More than 40 people have been trained in restoration techniques.

A year-long study by the KMFRI had tested the viability of raising coral fragments from areas affected by bleaching events, explains Jelvas Mwaura at the KMFRI’s department of marine environment and ecology. Many of the corals transplanted from coral gardens to degraded reef areas for the study survived, providing new habitats for fish species including jacks, groupers, emperors and sweetlips.

This success led to funding from the Kenya Coastal Development project (KCDP). Locals on Wasini Island have since grown more than 3,000 corals.

Coral reefs provide shelter and breeding grounds for hundreds of species of marine life. Fish populations in waters around the island have increased three times as much as in other areas, says the KMFRI.

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Kenyan flag

… The women of Wasini Island have also been restoring fish populations by cultivating seagrass. Overfishing of certain species, such as trigger fish, had led to the disappearance of seagrass because trigger fish fed on the sea urchins that devoured it. Using gunny bags made of sisal to protect the seedlings and prevent them from getting washed away, the women replanted seagrass seedlings on the ocean floor.

In addition to providing food, seagrass plays a key role in the overall coral reef ecosystem, providing shelter to juvenile fish after they hatch by shielding them from strong waves until they mature and move into the coral reefs.

Ethiopia Celebrates the Launch of its First Satellite

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The national public broadcaster EBC broadcasts the launch of Ethiopia’s very first micro-satellite (ETRSS-1) at the Entoto Observatory on the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa, Friday Dec. 20, 2019. Ethiopia’s first-ever satellite has been launched into space by China. The earth observatory satellite is designed to help the East African nation gather data for agricultural, mining and environmental protection. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

Ethiopia has launched its first satellite this past Friday December 20, 2019. This is an outstanding feat and we are happy to celebrate with Ethiopian scientists and all Ethiopians. Funny how all western media titled “First Ethiopian satellite launched with the help of China,” as if it was wrong to do collaborations… aren’t most of the scientists at the International Space Station from all over the world and mainly Europe and the United States? Well we celebrate Ethiopia’s achievement. Below are excerpts from the article found on PhysOrg .

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Ethiopia’s first satellite was sent into space on Friday, a landmark achievement for the ambitious country that also caps a banner year for Africa’s involvement in space.

Scores of Ethiopian and Chinese officials and scientists gathered at the Entoto Observatory and Research Centre outside the capital, Addis Ababa, early Friday to watch a live broadcast.

The 70-kilogramme (154-pound) satellite was developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology with the help of 21 Ethiopian scientists, according to the specialist website africanews.space .

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People attend the launch of Ethiopia’s first micro-satellite (ETRSS-1) at the Entoto Observatory on the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa, Friday Dec. 20, 2019. Ethiopia’s first-ever satellite has been launched into space by China. The earth observatory satellite is designed to help the East African nation gather data for agricultural, mining and environmental protection. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

It [the satellite] will send back data of the environment and weather patterns in the Horn of Africa—a boon for a country dependent on agriculture and forestry and vulnerable to flood, drought and other climate perils.

This will be a foundation for our historic journey to prosperity,” Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen said in a speech.

It is the eighth launch of an African satellite this year, topping the previous record of seven in 2017, according to Temidayo Oniosun, managing director of Space in Africa, a Nigeria-based firm that tracks African space programmes.

We can say that 2019 is pretty much the best year in the history of the African space industry,” Oniosun told AFP.

The launch makes Ethiopia the eleventh African country to have a satellite into space. Egypt was the first in 1998.

All told, 41 African satellites have now been launched—38 from individual countries and three more that were multilateral efforts, Oniosun said.

None of those launches has taken place from African soil.

China covered most of the satellite’s $8 million (7.2-million-euro) cost, according to an official involved in Ethiopia’s space programme who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to disclose details of the project.

Ethiopia Breaks World Record,Plants 350 million Trees In One Day

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Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed plants a tree as part of the reforestation project (Source: Office of the Prime Minister – Ethiopia)

Last August, Ethiopia broke a world record for… not in long distance running, people… but for the most trees planted in a single day in the world. The goal was to plant 200 million trees to fight against deforestation and droughts in Ethiopia. Kudos to the prime minister Abiy Ahmed and to the strong people of Ethiopia.

Enjoy the excerpt below below from Borkena; you will find the full article there.

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Prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration has been mobilizing for months for what it called “Green Legacy” project which aimed at planting over 200 million trees in a single day.

Government affiliated media, Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), cited the coordinating committee of the project to report that 353,633,660 trees have been planted across the country.

Religious leaders, workers, business people, actors, members of the Ethiopian Defense force, senior government officials, students, among others, have participated in the campaign.

[…] Over the last decades, Ethiopia lost much of forest coverage across the country due to deforestation. Currently, the forest coverage is said to be below 3 percent.

Organizers of the green legacy campaign and Abiy Ahmed’s administration pride itself by claiming world record with the 200 million trees in a day campaign.

According to Guinness World Records, the record for individuals was registered in 2001 in Canada. Ken Chaplain planted 15,170 trees in one day in Saskatchewan.

In terms of tree planting by volunteers, the highest number of trees planted is India in 2016, as per The National Geographic report. About 50 million trees were planted on June 11, 2016.

Burkinabe Woman Turns Water Hyacinth Into Gold Mine

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Mariama Mamane (Source: UNEP)

In Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, a young scientist, Mariama Mamane who won the Young Champion of the Earth in the year 2017, is turning water hyacinth, an invasive species, into fertilizer, bio-gas and energy.

Mariama’s pilot program prevents desertification, creates food security and converts a problem into a livelihood opportunity for people in Burkina Faso. Her project, “JACIGREEN”, offers an innovative eco-solution introducing a plant-based purification mechanism to help manage fresh water and improve access to drinking water. It simultaneously implements a system to produce organic fertilizer (via anaerobic composting) and electricity (from biogas recovered from the water hyacinth transformation process). Her goal is to “Improve living conditions of population through sustainable agriculture and renewable energy for energy deficient rural communities in West Africa.”

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Water hyacinth invasion in Lake Victoria (Source: Lilian Ochieng, The East African)

Recall that Achenyo Idachaba of Nigeria has been exploring other alternatives making arts and craft products with the Water hyacinth (Jacinthe des eaux) in Nigeria. For those who do not know what the water hyacinth is, it is a plant which has been suffocating rivers around the globe, and has proliferated in places such as Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest body of fresh water) not only depriving the lake of its oxygen thus reducing nutrients for fishes, blocking water ways, and breeding all sorts of new diseases. This plant is not native of Africa.

Please help me applaud the work of Mariama Mamane. She was featured in this UN video below turning plant to power in Burkina Faso. Enjoy!

South African Woman wins Prize for Water-Saving Toilet

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Toilet bowl

I always wondered why the toilet design used today in almost all bathrooms around the world is 400 years old. So many things have gone through innovation, reinvention, re-design, etc, yet the toilet design has survived 400 years! In the end, I thought it was because the subject was not particularly attractive: I mean who wants to look into toilet bowls, or even think about it, or talk about it? Yuck…! Just do the business and be gone, right? Well, one young lady from South Africa came up with a toilet design which uses 400 milliliters (0.4 L – 0.11 gallons) instead of the usual 13 litres (13 L – 3.4 gallons) consumed in regular toilets. People, this is more than a 300% reduction in water… think about your water bills savings or drought areas! Please help me applaud the work of Monni Mokwena. Her invention is appropriately called the Swallowing Toilet. The excerpt below is from Briefly where the full article is found.

Just a note on July 30, 2019: Monni Mokwena emphasized in the comment section below that her design uses a flexible S-shape design which not only reduces water consumption, but also takes care of the smell: “My toilet have a flexible s- shape compared to the traditional toilet…So when it’s inoperative it has that S shape that help to prevent water for flowing and also to prevent the smell to come back into the bowl…

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Monni Mokwena (Source: Sowetan Live)

Monni Mokwena is the epitome of black excellence. The 25-year-old designed a toilet that does not only save underprivileged people money, but it also preserves water. Mokwena pitched her idea at the Engen Pitch and Polish competition and she was crowed the regional winner.The young inventor was inspired by her upbringing in Bakenberg village in Mokopane, Limpopo. Mokwena was one among many living in rural areas who did not have the pleasure of flushing toilets. According to The Sowetan, Mokwena also saw her gogo spend a lot of money to pay someone to fetch water.

I am a rural girl. Toilets are a serious problems in our community. My grandmother still spends a substantial amount of money of her pension to pay people who get her water from far,” she said. 

She started doing research and found that the everyday toilet was invented over 400 years ago. Briefly.co.za gathered she came up with plans and her invention uses less than a litre of water.

I realised that the mountain of the s-shaped pipe at the back of the toilet is the one that makes the toilet to use a lot of water. This was created to prevent the smell from coming back to the house. We’ve cut that ‘mountain’,” Mokwena said.

Mokwena’s new “swallowing toilet” uses a flexible pipe instead of the s-shaped one and because it swallows the waste, the toilet only requires 400 millilitres of water – opposed to the 13 litres of water a normal toilet uses. Taking to social media, Mokwena gushed about the competition where she pitched her idea before walking away the winner.

Just imagine, a poor girl like me with my poor English, from the village pitching and competing with/to the most sophisticated people. And, I made to the top. Bafowethu – Let’s keep pushing but never forget to pray hey…. the competition is too much there,” she wrote on Facebook. 

All-Girls Robotic Team From Ghana Wins World Robofest Championship

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Methodist Girls’ High School at Mamfe Akuapem in the Eastern Region (Source: Africa.com)

A few weeks ago, an all-girls team from Ghana won the World Robofest 2019 Championship in the US, defeating teams from the United States, Mexico, Japan, China, Korea, South Africa, etc. The 20th edition of World Robofest championship competition took place in the state of Michigan, in the United States. I join myself in applauding this outstandingly great feat by the all-girls Ghanaian team from the Methodist Girls’ High School at Mamfe Akuapem in the Eastern region of Ghana: we are very proud of them.

Enjoy the excerpt below from Face2FaceAfrica, and join us in congratulating these girls as well as their coaching staff. For the full article, go to Face2FaceAfrica.

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All-girls robotics team from Ghana (Team Acrobot) – Photo: Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation

Ghana presented an all-girls robotics team for the senior division of the World Robofest Championship in the United States and they won the topmost position by beating teams from the United States, Mexico, Egypt, South Korea and dozens of others.

Named Team Acrobot, the nine girls from the Methodist Girls’ High School in the Eastern Region of Ghana dominated the 10 broad and challenging categories of the championship held from May 16 to 18 at the Lawrence Technological University (LTU), Southfield, Michigan.

[…] The team from Ghana was able to build a robot that arranged boxes according to a binary number they were given during the competition. They also completed their missions successfully.

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Team Acrobot – Photo: Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation

Team Acrobot was not the only team from Ghana. The West African country also presented a team for the junior division called Team Cosmic Intellect. The team of five boys from the Mikrobot Academy in Ghana came 6th out of the overall 52 teams in the division.

[…] The Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation was founded by Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, the Ghanaian robotics engineer at NASA and the chief engineer and technical group leader for the mobility and manipulation group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is one of the lead engineers behind NASA’s Mars Rover and InSight projects. […]

The Lebombo Bone: The Oldest Mathematical Artifact in the World

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The Lebombo bone

Have you ever heard of the Lebombo Bone? It is even older than the Ishango bone. It is indeed the oldest known mathematical artifact in the world. Discovered in the 1970s in Border Cave, a rock shelter on the western scarp of the Lebombo Mountains in an area near the border of South Africa and Swaziland (now Eswatini). The bone was found on the Eswatini side, and dates from 35,000 BC. It consists of 29 distinct notches that were deliberately cut into a baboon’s fibula.

The bone is between 44,200 and 43,000 years old, according to 24 radiocarbon datings. This is far older than the Ishango bone with which it is sometimes confused. Other notched bones are 80,000 years old but it is unclear if the notches are merely decorative or if they bear a functional meaning.

According to The Universal Book of Mathematics, the Lebombo bone’s 29 notchesmay have been used as a lunar phase counter, in which case African women may have been the first mathematicians, because keeping track of menstrual cycles requires a lunar calendar.” However, the bone is clearly broken at one end, so the 29 notches may or may not be a minimum number. In the cases of other notched bones since found globally, there has been no consistent notch tally, many being in the 1–10 range. The Lebombo bone resembles a calendar used by the early men of the area, coming from the San clans of Namibia; this way of making tallies is still used by the San people today.

 

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Top image: Lebombo bone. Bottom: Ishango bone with prime numbers engraving (J.D. Loreto and D.H. Hurlbert Smithsonian)

According to The Universal Book of Mathematics, the Lebombo bone’s 29 notches “may have been used as a lunar phase counter, in which case African women may have been the first mathematicians, because keeping track of menstrual cycles requires a lunar calendar.” However, the bone is clearly broken at one end, so the 29 notches may or may not be a minimum number. In the cases of other notched bones since found globally, there has been no consistent notch tally, many being in the 1–10 range. This resembles a calendar used by the early men of the area, coming from the San clans of Namibia. These represent the earliest unambiguous evidence for modern human behavior. An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on recent archaeological discoveries, “Early evidence of San material culture represented by organic artifacts from Border Cave, South Africa” , has shown that bone tools were already present 75,000 years ago and were used in San culture.

To anyone who ever doubted it, Africa is indeed the cradle of humanity… and women (if it is indeed a lunar tool) were quite advanced mathematicians 35,000 years ago, using calculators to make lunar calendars!

 

Smart Gloves to Turn Sign Language into Audio Speech

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Roy Allela has developed a glove that translates sign language to speech via a bluetooth-enabled smartphone. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

I once observed the communication of a mute person on his tablet via Skype to his relative. While waiting in the airport that day, I marveled at the beauty of technology, at what had been made possible: that someone born mute or deaf could communicate, via sign language, to his loved ones, make up a ‘video’ call to tell them ‘I am catching up my plane’ or ‘I made it safely to the airport, we should be taking off shortly’. Now this invention out of Africa tries to make into audible speech Sign language so that all could be able to communicate. Simply love it! The article is from the Guardian.

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Roy Allela’s six-year-old niece was born deaf. She found it difficult to communicate with her family, none of whom knew sign language. So Allela – a 25-year-old Kenyan technology evangelist who works for Intel and tutors data science at Oxford University – invented smart gloves that convert sign language movements into audio speech.

The gloves – named Sign-IO – have flex sensors stitched on to each finger. The sensors quantify the bend of the fingers and process the letter being signed. The gloves are paired via Bluetooth to a mobile phone application that Allela also developed, which then vocalises the letters.

My niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing and I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” says Allela. “Like all sign language users, she’s very good at lip reading, so she doesn’t need me to sign back.”

Allela piloted the gloves at a special needs school in rural Migori county, south-west Kenya, where feedback helped inform one of the most important aspects of the gloves: the speed at which the language is converted into audio.

People speak at different speeds and it’s the same with people who sign: some are really fast, others are slow, so we integrated that into the mobile application so that it’s comfortable for anyone to use it.”

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 The Sign-IO app, which vocalises words signed by the person wearing the gloves. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

Users can also set the language, gender and pitch of the vocalisation through the app, with accuracy results averaging 93%, says Allela. Perhaps most importantly, the gloves can be packaged in any style the user wants, whether that’s a princess glove or a Spider-Man one, he says. “It fights the stigma associated with being deaf and having a speech impediment. If the gloves look cool, every kid will want to know why you have them on.”

The gloves recently won the hardware trailblazer award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and Allela is using the prize money to land more accurate vocal predictions.

His goal is to place at least two pairs of gloves in every special needs school in Kenya, and believes they could be used to help the 34 million children worldwide who suffer disabling hearing loss.

I was trying to envision how my niece’s life would be if she had the same opportunities as everyone else in education, employment, all aspects of life,” says Allela.

The general public in Kenya doesn’t understand sign language so when she goes out, she always needs a translator. Picture over the long term that dependency, how much that plagues or impairs her progress in life … when it affects you personally, you see how hard people have it in life. That’s why I’ve really strived to develop this project to completion.”