A high achiever is not one who merely discovers the problems in his society, but one who is able to proffer long lasting solutions to the challenges he identifies in the society.
Dr Askwar Hilonga is indeed a high achiever who has efficiently addressed one of his country’s major challenges.
His innovation, the Nanofilter is a sand-based water filter which uses nanotechnology to decontaminate water. The water filter absorbs anything from copper and fluoride to bacteria, viruses and pesticides and makes clean water available to the millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa who still drink from unrefined sources.
According to a report by the United Nations, up to 115 people in Africa die every hour from diseases linked to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation. In Tanzania, about 70% of the population do not use any form of water purification and 88% of the infant mortality is caused by waterborne diseases.
With 33 academic journal articles on nanotechnology to his name, Hilonga hopes to solve Tanzania’s water contamination problems by using nanotechnology to customize water filters.
His foray into nanotechnology was not only inspired by his academic interest, but also by his experience growing up in Tanzania.
“I was born in rural Tanzania and raised by a poor family in which most of the times we were suffering from waterborne diseases because we could not afford the luxury of expensive bottled water.” He recounts.
Dr Hilonga is a chemical engineer and lecturer at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology whose aim is to inspire Africans to empower their own communities.
Through the Gongali Model Company, a university spin-off company which he co-founded, he has enabled 23 entrepreneurs in his community to start up their own businesses with the filters, and local schools to provide their learners with clean drinking water.
In June 2015, the outstanding innovator won 25,000 (US$38,390) at the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, for his mind blowing innovation which is rapidly gaining traction across Tanzania.
Now with the available resources, Dr Hilonga is set to change Africa, beginning from his community. You know what they say, charity begins at home.
First, he hopes to cover the 70% of nine million households in Tanzania that do not have access to any kind of water treatment system, and then reach out across sub-Saharan Africa to the countries that share the same challenge.
He also plans to convert community centers into “water hubs”, where water can be purified and families will be able to access clean filtered water at a cheap price.