ConnectHear: The First Pakistani Startup to win Diana Awards

In recognition of their efforts in creating a deaf-inclusive culture in Pakistan, Diana, a charity founded in the name of Princess Diana, has awarded members of ConnectHear Team with Diana Awards.

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[From left to right] Diana Award winners Syed Talal Ali, Azima Dhanjee, Arhum Ishtiaq, Areej Al Medinah, Sadaf Amin, and Zainab Syed of Team ConnectHear.

Arhum Ishtiaq, Azima Dhanjee, Areej Al Medinah, Zainab Syed, Syed Talal Ali, and Sadaf Amin from ConnectHear, a startup in Pakistan, have been recognised with the highest accolade young people can achieve for social action or humanitarian effort – The Diana Award.

There are approximately 10 million people in Pakistan with some level of speech or hearing impairment.

Inaugurated in the remembrance of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Award is presented by a charity of the same name. The late Princess’ sons, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex have both pledged their full support to the Awards that started in 1999 and have since acknowledged over 48,000 young people across the globe.

There are approximately 10 million people in Pakistan with some level of speech or hearing impairment. However, there is very little awareness regarding their special needs. ConnectHear is a social startup looking to ratify this situation by providing remote and instant video sign language interpretation service throughout the country. It was founded by Azima Dhanjee, Arhum Ishtiaq and Areej Al Medinah after observing the daily life struggles of the deaf parents of Azima. Azima’s parents were strong individuals but constantly found themselves in need of assistance from their children even for relatively mundane tasks such as ordering a takeaway, calling a Careem or just visiting the bank. Their everyday life was marked with such little struggles and numerous other adjustments which they had to make in order to function in society. Closely observing how majority of their struggles could be eased by simply making the society ‘deaf-inclusive’ by educating people about the sign language, Azima and her co-founders started ConnectHear during their undergrad. The startup got immediately incubated at NestIO and has now been honoured with The Diana Awards for going above and beyond to create and sustain positive change. ConnectHear is the first startup from Pakistan to attain this award.

Azima Dhanjee during the first-ever Pakistani Sign Language Awareness Workshop in Gilgit, Pakistan, where she taught the culture and language of deaf to local social workers, educators and parents of deaf.

The award comes on the back of multiple accomplishments by the ConnectHear team. ConnectHear made history by conducting Pakistan’s first-ever deaf-inclusive concert at Habib University which featured the popular musical band: Strings. Performances by Strings as well as other artists were energetically interpreted by the ConnectHear team for the deaf people in the crowd. ConnectHear also recently conducted a deaf-inclusive Model United Nations (MUN) conference in collaboration with ROTMUN. Before this, in September 2018, ConnectHear held the first-ever deaf theater competition to thwart the notion that theatrics are for the hearing community only. ConnectHear is also behind the online channel ConnectTV, which presents content in the Pakistani sign language and also frequently organizes workshops in Pakistani Sign Language.

A group of deaf people singing national anthem in sign language at a deaf-inclusive concert at Habib University conducted by ConnectHear.

“Growing up, I saw my deaf parents struggle with communicating with the outside world. I saw raw talent go unrecognized because of the barrier that is language. Using that as a motivation, we aimed to create a platform to eliminate this communication gap and help the deaf people reach their potential,” remarked Azima Dhanjee, ConnectHear Cofounder and CEO. Talal Ali, Zainab Syed, and Sadaf Amin also expressed gratitude on the award and stressed the need to create an inclusive community for the fellow countrymen with speech and hearing impairment.

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