Agus Gunarto, From Zero to Hero
Before the invention, Pak Agus was just a bemo driver (bemo is a three-wheeler neighborhood-level public transport, used to be popular in 1980s). He lives in Tlogomas a densely populated area in Malang, East Java. Without having sufficient knowledge and knowhow in technology, he started to construct a community-level sewerage system (technically known as small-bore sewer). Nobody knew where did he get the knowledge, but he started to construct the scheme as if he knew what to do. He installed reticulation system consisting of PVC pipe, connecting the septic tank from each house to a main pipe that led to a small concrete tank at the downstream part of his village in the river bank, which he called “AG tank” (no need to tell that AG stands for his name). The effluent from the tank is then discharged into the river. Luckily that the terrain allows for wastewater to flow by gravity.
What has driven him in the first place was his concern on the way his people defecate. His village is located by the river bank. He observed that the people used to defecate along the Brantas river everyday, which turned to be creating bad small and unsanitary condition. He used to jokingly tell us that every morning he found a “strange plastic bags” that hung on trees along the bank. He didn’t tell us what was inside the bag, but we knew what he meant. He realized that without doing anything, the people will continue this habit that has been practiced for generations. He got resistance in the beginning, but the people gradually supported him. Finally, his invention raised the government attention. His efforts were properly acknowledged. In 1996 he won Youth Leadership Award at the national level and in the following year he got Kalpataru, an award for environment improvement actions.
I visited his village in Tlogomas in 1999 and he proudly showed me what he has done. In the same year, with the help of some colleagues and under the World Bank sponsorship, we were able to invite him to deliver a speech at a Water Week Forum in Washington DC, USA. His first visit abroad was indeed just the beginning of his travel around the globe. He was then invited to share his experience in many seminars in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan and other countries. In 2001 he won the World Technology Award in England, with US$ 50,000 prize.
Two years later, in 2008, he received Satya Lencana Pembangunan, an honor from the Government for outstanding achievement. This is really a high appreciation of what he has been doing for his people, and I think he deserves it. A leading magazine in Hongkong honored him ‘Heroes of Today’. He is really a hero who started from zero. He was just an ordinary person now is becoming a shinny star where professionals and common people mutually respect him. His work has now been replicated not only in his home town, Malang, but also in many other cities in Indonesia.