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Enactus Students Listen to Hearing Impaired

Ford Fund grants assist student efforts to benefit deaf during pandemic

DEARBORN, Mich. — Two teams of Enactus students, working independently on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, entered the Ford Fund COVID-19 College Challenge with one goal in mind—to help the hearing impaired in their communities overcome obstacles presented by the global pandemic.

Female sews cloth bag pre-pandemic
Qualifying female Project: Costuraê participants manage their own mask-making business and achieve financial independence while reducing economic and gender inequalities and environmental impacts. Photo by Project: Costuraê

In Brazil, the Enactus UFPA student team has added specialized face masks to the mission of Project: Costuraê, a program that empowers low-income women to use their sewing skills to become entrepreneurs. Costuraê uses the principles of circular fashion, where waste is eliminated, and products are recycled and reused. The women normally produce eco-shopping bags, but since the pandemic began they have switched over to face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Masks have become a common site throughout the world, but they pose a unique problem for many deaf people.

"They cannot do lip reading, thus communication with other people who are not deaf gets even more complicated," said Ana Carla Pimentel Matrigiani, student, Enactus UFPA, Federal University of Pará, Brazil. "We've developed a new model of masks to help them. These masks are made with the fabric recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), but the difference is the transparent part in the mouth region, which is possible with the use of plastic we cut out of PET bottles."

The Enactus UFPA team submitted their idea to the Ford Fund COVID-19 College Challenge and won a grant to launch the project. The team consulted with members of the hearing-impaired community to assess their needs and then developed a prototype to guide the seamstresses in production. The team purchased PET bottles and other necessary materials needed to make the masks.

Female wearing mask with clear portion at mouth, wearing Enactus shirt.
The clear portion of the face mask allows for lip reading. Photo by Enactus UFPA

"These new masks, which are sewn by women in vulnerable socioeconomic conditions are already in production," added Matrigiani. "Before the Ford Fund challenge, adapted masks were just an idea. The financial resources offered by Ford Fund provided the whole implementation of this action that will benefit so many people."

The Enactus UFPA student entrepreneurs were among 14 teams in nine countries—Brazil, Egypt, Eswatini, Ghana, India, Kenya, South Africa, the United Kingdom and United States—awarded Ford Fund grants for their local projects linked to COVID-19. More than 150 applications were filed by Enactus students, who are part of an international network of next generation leaders motivated to help make the world a better place.

In Ghana, Enactus students at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) took a different approach to helping hearing-impaired people navigate around COVID-19. And they also took home an award in the Ford Fund COVID-19 Challenge. Project: ReL (Remote Learning) is a result of school closings and the impact they have had on disadvantaged communities and deaf people in particular. Enactus KNUST has developed Ghana's first virtual learning environment totally in sign language, along with a digital database for educational resources related to deafness.

Video camera on tripod facing male instructing lesson
Remote learning in Ghana. Photo by Enactus KNUST

"The government has made provisions to move academic work online, but the platform will benefit just students who reside in urban areas leaving some vulnerable students, such as the deaf and students in deprived communities," explained Mathias Charles Yabe, student, Enactus KNUST. "This is what inspired us to create a feasible solution."

The virtual platform also contains learning modules that cover the Ghana Education Service syllabus and a COVID-19 Info Bot, which gives instant information about the virus, safety measures and statistics. The team is also working with service providers to install learning materials and apply zero-rate charges to student smartphones. Educational content is also expected to be delivered on TV.

The Ford Fund COVID-19 College Challenge is a branch of the signature Ford College Community Challenge (C3). Enactus is Ford Fund's international partner for Ford C3, which awards grants to student-led teams that develop sustainable projects meeting a community need, such as clean water, food or mobility. Originally launched in the United States in 2008, Ford C3 now operates in 11 countries—Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Kingdom and United States. Ford C3 has awarded more than $3 million in global grants to support nearly 200 student-led projects.

"As an Enactus team we understand the need to make a sustainable impact during these trying times," added Yabe. "It feels great and it is indeed an honor. One is not too young to make an impact."

To learn more about Ford Fund's COVID-19 response and donation match program visit fordfund.org/covid19.