MarthaEDU: Decreasing Illiteracy in the Deaf Community
A community functions at its full potential when its members embrace inclusivity and diversity. Language development for those who are hard of hearing, though often overlooked, is essential to successful community interconnection. MarthaEDU is committed to providing an outstanding interactive and affordable educational experience through their mobile application.
The app is an accessible Arabic sign language teaching tool that is perfectly tailored for use at home. It is designed to create an enjoyable and encouraging environment where children, aged two to five, can learn with their family and friends.
“Quality learning is a crucial right every child is entitled to.” Said Ehab Kahwati, Martha EDU’s CEO. "MarthaEDU’s mobile application is committed to providing opportunities for deaf children who don’t have access to educational products in Jordan and the Middle East as a whole."
How it all Started?
Taking a trip back in time, Omar Zaghloul found himself on the wrong street. Upon asking for help, he was met with the confusion of passersby who could not communicate with a deaf person effectively. Kahwati was at the bus station when he saw Zaghloul. He tried to help but failed to understand Zaghloul’s desired location. To solve this issue, Kahwati took out his phone and began to type out questions. Shocked, he quickly found out that Zaghloul, a man in his fifties, could not read or write well. "This is what happens when there is an impermeable language barrier." Says Kahwati.
The Importance of Gradual Learning
Through engaging with specialists and experts, the team learned the fundamental rules for building a first-rate education system to improve the quality of life for deaf people.
"We concluded that the path of education, for optimal learning, should start at the age of two. By starting healthy development young, future problems are avoided completely." stressed Kahwati.
The team understood there must be gradual learning, starting with basic vocabulary, which eventually results in the child reading and writing sufficiently. Thus, MarthaEDU was born, encouraging learning within the home, with the help of the family, making the transition into society as smooth as possible.
Watch Ehab Kahwati’s TEDx Talk on his story
Martha’s Solution for Illiteracy
90% of deaf people are born to hearing parents who have no knowledge of sign language or how to properly accommodate the needs of deaf children at all. This makes learning sign language difficult, and consequently, communication between parent and child becomes hindered.
In Jordan, most families with deaf children can’t afford to provide sign language education with the services available today, while some parents refuse to teach their children sign language and hide them from society because of the culture of shame. As a result, the illiteracy rate is nearly 80% in the deaf community.
According to Rasha Abu Shakhdam, Chief Operations Officer and a co-founder of MarthaEDU, illiteracy is a lifelong challenge in a world where reading and writing are essential in being an active member of society. Abu Shakhdam said, "Illiteracy is a challenge that lasts a lifetime, that follows a person and makes their life a lot harder. This is the reason we are putting forward Martha for the education of deaf children and their parents, so they can learn their mother language—sign language—in an official and interactive way. This is so they can be an active part of society and acclimate naturally.
A Family App
This is why MarthaEDU was established. It is an app for both parents and children to learn the Arabic sign language. Children learn vocabulary with child-friendly cards that accompany the app. The cards are colorful and visually stimulating, containing written words paired with cartoon images. The app also shows short videos clearly demonstrating how to sign each word. Focusing on accessibility, the app does not need an internet connection to function, making it usable at all times.
"The main issue for any startup is finding the proper guidance and advice," says Kahwati, "We believe that we would not have been celebrating our success without the support received from The Tank by Umniah. By incubating our project, it not only provided us with a work office and a professional license at the King Hussein Business Park, but with professional financial and legal advice which heavily contributed to the success of our project."
As for Abu Shakhdam she urged entrepreneurs to believe in their capabilities and approach entities like The Tank by Umniah and said, "We call on all entrepreneurs to never give up, believe in themselves and their ideas, and, in return, they will find an entity which will support them."
Both Kahwati and Abu Shakhdam confirm that the tremendous support which MarthaEDU received from The Tank has enabled them to focus on the core of their business and, as a result, today MarthaEDU is endorsed by leading international civil societies. "We wouldn’t have gone this far if we were not incubated by The Tank." They both said.