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Obama Scholar's invention brings clean water to rural Indonesians

Obama Scholar creates clean water for rural Indonesians

Mustika Wijaya, an Indonesian woman with a light medium skin tone, stands outside in front of a pillar. She has a closed lip smile and is wearing a white blazer and blouse.

“I have always believed that electricity is not just about providing light in the dark, but it can also illuminate people’s lives by creating opportunities for education, health care, and economic growth,” said Mustika Wijaya, 2022-2023 Obama Scholar at Columbia University.

Mustika is an engineer and founder of Solar Chapter, an innovative community-owned solar pump system that seeks to ensure that all Indonesians, especially rural residents, have access to clean water. It uses renewable solar energy to provide clean water and open pathways of educational opportunities for women and children across 10 villages in Indonesia.

“Solar Chapter began during my senior year at the University of Illinois in 2017. I booked a flight back home to Indonesia and traveled to the eastern part of the country, journeying more than 10 hours by flight and road from Jakarta to reach areas where access to water was limited. I witnessed firsthand the harsh reality of people having to walk three to four hours just to get water,” Wijaya reflected.

She says being a part of the Obama Scholars program has been transformative for her personal and professional development.

“With the help of the program, I’ve been able to make Solar Chapter a more sustainable organization,” Wijaya said.

Solar Chapter has installed 10 solar-powered pump systems in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, benefiting 11,012 people.

“In the regions that we worked, East Nusa Tenggara, over 93% of the local communities’ livelihoods are dependent on rainfed agriculture. Climate change poses a significant threat to their well-being and economic stability. Our solar pump system helps address these challenges by providing a reliable and sustainable source of water not only for daily needs but for agriculture practice, even during periods of water scarcity,” She shared.

On a sunny day, four children play in front of Solar Chapter’s water pump. They are a range of medium skin tones and are covered in water.

Kids play in Solar Chapter’s water pump.

Solar Chapter’s pump technologies have also allowed residents to participate in the company’s community-led educational programs, which resulted in higher levels of school participation and engagement in health and hygiene practices.

“Based on testimonies, villagers can now take showers twice a day, improving their hygiene practices. This has consequently enhanced health quality, productivity, and school participation among community members,” Wijaya shared. “Our solar pump systems have also contributed to a 151% increase in their monthly income, from $18 to $41 per household. This, along with a reduction in water and daily food expenses, has had a significant impact on the communities we serve.”

Wijaya says championing this issue was a personal one.

“Water is a fundamental daily need that is often taken for granted by those who have easy access to it. Involving local and outside communities is essential when addressing the water access issue. Local communities have a sense of belonging and ownership which ensures continuous maintenance of the water systems and fosters long-term sustainability,” she said.

Wijaya now hopes to expand upon the progress she’s made.

“Our next focus is to improve capacity building, monitoring, and evaluation of water programs to ensure continuous access to water for communities in the region.”

Mustika Wijaya stands with the Wekeke village chief and religious leader at the site of Solar Chapter’s pump installation. They are surrounded by rocks and construction.

Mustika Wijaya stands with the Wekeke village chief and religious leader at the site of Solar Chapter’s pump installation.