Professor Aisa Mijeno and her brother Raph have a dream for their 16 million Filipino fellowmen who live without electricity.
In the Philippines, where a large percentage of the rural poor do not have electrical access, the Mijeno siblings have taken on the challenge to bring light to families using a very simple concept that Professor Aisa thinks has long been taken for granted.
“The planet is three-fourth ocean water,” the spritely, petite teacher muses, “What is the best way to solve our energy shortage other than using the abundant natural resource that we have? The science behind this has been existing for a hundred years, I’m not really sure why people deviated from developing this principle.”
It sounds nothing short of miraculous, if not even revolutionary: the Mijenos are going to make sublime light from mere water and salt.
And then there was light
Professor Aisa is a part-time faculty member of the College of Engineering at De la Salle University-Lipa, teaching technical subjects such as Embedded System, Data Structures and Algorithm Analysis, and CCNA Exploration.
Before that, she also taught a class on Environmental Engineering, with the course covering Sustainable Energy.
Her technical background proved useful when she visited a small tribe in Kalinga, a mountainous region north of the country. There, she learned how people had to walk 12 hours to the neighboring town 50 kilometers away, just so they can buy kerosene for their lamps.
“That hit me in the heart, so I started linking my past knowledge and experiences to come up with a sustainable solution,” Professor Aisa shares.
This realization set her on the path towards starting SALt, which she and her brother proudly brand as a social movement that aims to distribute their sustainable, cost-effective, and ecologically-designed lamp powered by tap water and table salt.
It wasn’t hard to believe that it was her destiny all along. Her life of soul-searching seemed to have been readying her for this epiphany: “After I graduated from college, I had the chance to work for an industry for a couple of years. I resigned my job and spent one whole year volunteering for various NGOs. I call that now, a year of enlightenment — where I traveled across the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and did work for free,” she reminisces.”I got to be part of Greenpeace Philippines as a DDC (Direct Dialogue Campaigner) in the middle of that same year.”
As campaigner, she received a scanty PHP 4,000 a month, which eventually took a toll on her finances. With a heavy heart, she resigned from her job.
Little did she know back then that she would eventually have a groundbreaking idea which will get the attention of business incubator IdeaSpace Foundation, and win for them a slot in the organisation’s recent tech startup competition, along with nine other companies.
Light of the world, salt of the Earth
Today, Professor Aisa is preparing to be 100 per cent focussed on her new venture — even contemplating to take a full sabbatical leave from her professorial duties to manage SALt.
The duo plan to adopt TOM’s One for One model by ensuring that communities from depressed areas in the country get a free lamp for every product purchased.
“Our first beneficiaries will be the Hanunuo Mangyan tribe of Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro that we were able to visit last August,” Professor Aisa reveals. “Our main target communities are those families that are living off the grid, not by choice but by circumstances. The Philippines is an archipelago and the logistics of providing energy to all of these islands are fairly limited. So we have to reach out to these communities and help the government somehow,” she added.
They have also been developing a new sustainable lighting idea aside from the saltwater-powered lamp: “It’s a system that makes use of kinetic energy generated by the gravitational force of raindrops enough to light-up LEDs or home appliances.”
Aside from this, they also plan to expand beyond the Philippines, and impact other places that will benefit from their innovation. “Lack of electricity access does not only exist here,” she observes. “This problem also persists for 63 million people in Indonesia, 26 million people in Myanmar, 10 million in Cambodia, eight million in Thailand, two million in Vietnam, 2.2 million in Laos, and 200,000 in Malaysia.”
When asked why people should support their project, the Professor humbly answered: “What we do is a simple way of helping, of trying to give back in the way we know how to. The places that need this technology and the people that live in these places are amazing, but sadly they are not being given enough attention. Hopefully, what we bring to the table will get people with amazing ideas to follow suit.”
Freelancer.com believes in passionate individuals making a difference in the world. That is why, together with the Young Entrepreneurs Society of the Philippines (YES), it has appointed SALt to represent the Philippines for the Startup Nations Summit competition this November 24-25 in Seoul, Korea. Help SALt win by voting for them here.
The views expressed are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them.
e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested to share your point of view, please send us an email to writers[at]e27[dot]co