Lanarkshire charity founder invents solar powered audio aid to help Kenyan children hear for the first time


A local optometrist who has given the gift of sight to thousands of African children through his life-changing charity, is now helping deaf Kenyan children hear for the first time.

Sean Walls and Sight Aid International have been carrying out eye screening camps in Kenya where they have conducted around 42,000 eye tests since 2009.

With the Covid pandemic putting the charity’s vital work on hold, Sean took the opportunity to go back to university and retrain as an audiologist.

And his quest to add hearing screening to his international projects is now being carried out with ten partially deaf children receiving hearing aids thanks to Sight Aid’s remarkable work with Kenya Society for the Deaf.

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Sean owns the Optical Factory in East Kilbride and Hamilton and has opened eye testing clinics in Kenya and Malawi.

He said: “In 2018 I started uni to become an audiologist so that I could add hearing screening projects to our work. “Unfortunately Covid put all our work on hold but we are now able to get back up and running.

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“I graduated in 2020 and carried out our first hearing screening project last month in Machakos, Kenya. We tested 21 children, 11 were profoundly deaf but 10 only had a hearing loss that can be corrected with hearing aids so I’m flying out to Kenya this month to fit them.

Sean and Mage’s Jordan Lindsay with the first Audio Sun prototype

“These children have been born with hearing loss and these aids will give them hearing for the first time. This will be a very emotional experience for me but one that I am extremely proud of.

“The kids live in the school and are faced with challenges daily. I am hoping that allowing some of them to hear may allow them to also develop their speech, allowing them a better quality of life.”

With the help of an East Kilbride engineering firm, Sean has also designed a device that will solar recharge hearing aid batteries so the children will be able to recharge their own batteries.

The first prototype of Audio Sun, designed and manufactured by Mage Control Systems, will be tested on Sean’s trip overseas.

He added: “Going forward we will be partnering with Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and I will be taking graduated audiologists out to Kenya annually for a one week hearing project.

“The university asked me how I would supply these children with enough hearing aid batteries, which need replaced every week. So I have spent the last 18 months working on a device called Audio Sun that will solar recharge hearing aid batteries.

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Sean Walls with children who visited his eye clinic in Malawi

“I decided to train as an audiologist as I knew that I wanted to conduct hearing screening camps in Kenya and the best way was if I trained to be able to do them myself.

“Doing this work really means so much to me and its something that I want to install in my three sons. My eldest who is 11 will come with me when I’m fitting the hearing aids.

“I want my kids to grow up with the desire to help people installed in them. I am lucky that I have wonderful staff in my clinics that allow me the freedom to pursue this work.”

Jordan Lindsay, business development and marketing manager at Mage Control Systems, said the company’s in-house 3D-printing facilities were “key” in delivering the first prototypes to Sean in such a short timeframe.

He said: “We were delighted at Mage Control to be asked to take on this project as soon as we heard the details from Sean. We’ve been exploring for some time now how we can support innovations that can bring about real positive change.

“Having developed innovative medical technologies for others in Scotland we had the appropriate experience to support Sean on his venture and did not waste any time getting to work.

“Not only have we been able to swiftly react and deliver for Audio Sun but this has also let our engineers work on a really rewarding project in what is still a challenging time for our industry.

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“We’re eagerly awaiting the first results back from Sean in Kenya once trials have begun in schools there and are extremely proud of the small part we have played in hopefully providing these children with a new lease of life.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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