Wuntia Gomda, the creative mind behind the Living Machine

It is often said there two sides to a coin, however there are many sides to this coin named Wuntia Gomda: the first and popular side is of him being an innovator, student, a go getter and an entrepreneur.

Wuntia, a student at the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa, is a young Ghanaian who helped birthed the ‘Living Machine’, a machine that collects waste water and cleans it using a system of plants, no chemicals are used, making it environmentally friendly and easy to use.

Due to the uniqueness of the machine and its ease of use, the team from ALA won in the Global High School category for sub-Saharan African region under the agricultural and innovation arm at the annual Zayed Sustainability Prize, the UAE’s pioneering global award for recognising sustainability and humanitarian solutions, around the world.

With an annual awards ceremony, held each year during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the Zayed Sustainability Prize acknowledges and rewards pioneers and innovators who are committed to developing and accelerating impactful solutions that serve disadvantaged communities and people – building a lasting legacy, today, for the future generations to come.

The Living Machine

With his staunch belief that people are unique in their own right, and propagators of change, Wuntia Gomda set out to create something that will resonate with the next generation and give new meaning to sustainability.

“We had been hearing news about the droughts in Cape Town and how the city was slowly approaching Day Zero, which was when it was expected to run out of usable water. We found this ironic, considering the fact that Cape Town is a coastal city and this struck a chord in us.

We thought that if a coastal city could run out of water, every other location on earth was at a risk and billions of people would suffer, we also acknowledged the fact that the problem was a lack of usable water. We then brainstormed different ways to convert the usable water into water that could be used for different purposes. This would save people from a plethora of problems,” he said.

The Difference in the living machine

The living machine collects waste water and cleans it using a system of plants, no chemicals are used, making it environmentally friendly and easy to use. It can also be implemented in different settings, such as communities, schools.

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Wuntia explains that the machine is cheaper to operate compared to large treatment plants that require a lot of money and chemicals for treatment whereas the living machines requires relatively nothing to maintain. He explains that the name living machine evokes the idea of a system which makes use of living organisms and structures.

Love of challenge and winning the Zayed Sustainability Award

As mentioned Wuntia loves challenges so he and his team entered more than one project to the Zayed Sustainability Prize. “We did not want the impact of our work to be limited to the Living Machine. We will also set up solar panels on our school campus to reduce our carbon foot print and utility costs. Any money we save the school as a result of the solar panels will be put in a fund to support the sustainability projects on campus.

With regards to waste management, we want to reduce the level of food waste to produce fertiliser for the farm on campus. Lastly, we will be helping people in the surrounding communities grow vegetables in their backyards. We are currently finalising the plans of these components and we hope to launch them soon.”

This award scheme, first of its kind was introduced in 2008 in the United Arab Emirates in honour of its founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan awards persons in different categories of Health, Food, Energy, Water and Global High Schools with the aim of highlighting world changing ideas that are sustainable as well as unique.

Wuntia mentions that he heard about the award from a former dean from his school. Never one to sit and twiddle his thumb, Wuntia said he and a colleague had been constantly thinking of ways to solve the drought that had set in some parts of South Africa. So when the dean mentioned the Zayed Sustainability, he was eager to find out more.

The ever progressive youngster, explains that in entering the scheme, he and his team from the ALA had the power to decide the direction of the project and coming from a school which places emphasis on entrepreneurship and leadership, they had very firm hands on approach to the project.

“We did most of the heavy lifting in terms of coming up with the vision of the project and even writing the grant proposal. We did have an advisor who is a teacher at ALA, to turn to when we needed help, but we still had lots of room to dictate what this project would look like. Our school has been extremely flexible with the kind of support it has given us and has always been available as a helping hand.”

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Looking beyond Zayed

Armed with a prize money of US$100,000, Wuntia and his friends intend to have the Living Machine up and running to full capacity and also develop a sustainable plans to ensure its success as they will soon be graduating from ALA.

His advice to youngsters like him is this: “Our world is constantly changing and one change I have seen is the world’s youth are increasingly taken seriously.  Young innovators should take advantage of the time because we have never been blessed with a time like this. There are so many people out there who are eager to support our dreams in different ways.”

The man behind the award

Born in the time where white collar jobs are the most important thing to have, young Wuntia lived the line ‘honest living never killed anyone’. He watched his parents do anything and everything honest to put food on their table.

In his pursuits as a student and eldest of his siblings Wuntia says he’s always had a sense of responsibility so he strived to be the very best so after his A levels in Ghana, he moved to South Africa to study at the African Leadership Academy(ALA).

What remains with him most is what he describes as a mix of being a natural innovator and becoming one. “I think we are all born with a natural curiosity which almost always leads us to find better ways of doing things and solving the problems around us, no matter how small.

This is what I call innovation, finding better ways to do things. Even with this, innovation still needs to be refined later in life otherwise it will die out,” he says with a smile. Wuntia explains that his upbringing gingered his love for problem solving and innovation. Indeed, what started as a small thing, has made an unimaginable impact in his life.

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