Meet Tendekayi Katsiga, creator of world’s first solar-powered hearing aid
3 Jun 2020
By Theodora Aidoo
Tendekayi Katsiga, a technology entrepreneur and founder of Deaftronics, has created the world’s first solar-powered hearing aid called ‘Solar Ear’. He was able to create the solar-powered hearing aid battery charger from a workshop in Botswana. Now, his creation has gone global.
“We came up with the solar rechargeable hearing aid when we realized that most people in Africa and in developing countries are given hearing aids by non-governmental organisations,” Katsiga said in a video interview with Youngpreneur Media.
The whole idea was birthed when Katsiga, an electronics technician, had just moved to Botswana from his hometown Zimbabwe. He bumped into Johnny, a young boy at a local mall, who had requested him to read from a newspaper.
Katsiga realized how difficult it was for 15-year-old Johnny to communicate. He realized that even though Johnny had a hearing aid, it was not functional, because he couldn’t afford the batteries. They sell them at $1 apiece.
Katsiga thought of a solution hence the birth of Deaftronics, which was launched in 2009. According to Katsiga, he founded Deaftronics as a solution suitable for hearing-impaired people living in the developing world.
His company manufactures affordable, solar rechargeable hearing aids in Botswana and distributes them to other parts of Africa and Brazil. “There are 525 million people with hearing loss and 70% of them live in developing countries. So it’s a big market, the market is so huge and impact is so profound,” Katsiga said.
“Most of the inputs to build the product came from other hearing-impaired folks. Solar Ear comes with a warranty for a year, the batteries lasts 2-3 years and we also have after sales service,” noted Katsiga.
The Deaftronics hearing aid is sold with a solar charger and four rechargeable batteries that last up to three years. The batteries can be used in 80 per cent of hearing aids on the market today.
In 2015 alone, Deaftronics reportedly enabled over 3, 000 hearing impaired children to attend school and has sold more than 10, 000 units in Botswana, Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
In an interview, Kitsaga revealed that Johnny was the first recipient of the Solar Ear. “His life has changed for the better, and his goal is to become a doctor and help other hearing impaired people”.
Katsiga said Deaftronics aims to create affordable products for the deaf, to employ hearing impaired people, and create awareness about the hearing impaired and also train them so that they better integrate into society.
Beyond the production of hearing aid, Katsiga was also disturbed with the lack of integration the deaf had with mainstream society. “They faced many challenges and with the spread of HIV/AIDS deaf people were not spared. While there were many campaigns to create awareness, it was not in their language. We produced awareness booklet for deaf”.
“After this the incidence of HIV/AIDS among the deaf reduced 38 per cent to 9 per cent between the 2009 and 2013. When the deaf went to bank-tellers, they did not know sign language, we got the deaf to teach bank-tellers sign language starting with the First National Bank of Botswana, the country’s biggest bank that is also present in South Africa,” Katsiga said.
His company has developed into a global brand and has been recognized by governments in Africa and beyond. He got an invite from a company in Brazil to create a joint venture to design and manufacture the Solar Ear to be sold in South America.
Deaftronics has opened a branch in Aman, Jordan. The company plans to open solar ear centres and implement their self-created program called DREET (detection, research, equipment and therapy), a tried and tested health care program that looks to break down these barriers by taking a holistic approach to solving the challenges posed.
In 2015, Katsiga won the Social impact prize at the Tech-I Competition. He said: “I am not a scientist or an engineer, but I saw a problem and I wanted to solve it”.