The sun was right on top of my head and the heat was grueling when I arrived at the Tuesday market in West Kedang, one hour away from the capital of Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara.
From afar, I saw a crowd forming in front of Uchi and Titin’s stall - two members of Kopernik’s Youth Change Agent program (YCA) who travelled all the way from their villages to this market to sell clean energy technology. YCA is part of our youth empowerment initiative that aims to provide young men and women with a range of business skills to launch their own small-scale enterprises. It’s essentially the same as Kopernik’s Wonder Women program, but for young people, hence the name Youth Change Agent.
This was my first encounter with Uchi and Titin. At the market, I observed how these two enthusiastically explained to their customers the benefit of the technologies that were displayed at their stall: a range of solar lights, biomass cookstoves, and water filters.
“This lamp doesn’t need to be charged with electricity. When you’re going fishing during the daytime, just charge this under the sun. Then, in the evening you can use it.” said Titin persuasively, convincing the already interested buyers.
From left to right: Uchi, Titin, Ardian, and Rus.
Before becoming members of YCA, Uchi and Titin didn’t know each other. Now, they’re best friends. They started this program together in November 2016 and went through the YCA training together. They even share the exact same birthday.
Both Uchi and Titin are 21 years old. Titin lives in East Kedang village with her husband, her 3-year-old daughter, and her mother-in-law. Before joining YCA, Titin used to sell fish. Now, she focuses her energy on selling clean technologies and has even recruited two of her friends, Ardian and Rus, to assist as her sub-agents.
For Uchi, things were much harder. Just last year, she ran away from her abusive partner in Kalimantan, with whom she had two daughters.
“My partner was always jealous. He used to hit me, even when I was pregnant. When I ran away from home, the rain was pouring and the wind was blowing heavily.”
Uchi was carrying her one-year-old daughter and her 3-month-old baby, when she met her friend who noticed the sound of Uchi’s baby crying.
“I cried so hard that day before being able to tell my friend what happened.”
With no money in hand, Uchi had to borrow money from her grandmother to buy tickets to travel back to their hometown in Lembata by ship. But only two months after Uchi and her daughters returned to their village, Uchi lost her baby daughter to measles disease.
She was now a grieving single mother living with a young daughter and four other family members who relied on her for support. Not to mention the added challenges of unreliable access to electricity and water. Yet Uchi somehow remains a tough and independent young woman who persevered and opted to take another chance on life.
Uchi is the only one in her household with a source of income. With the money she earns from selling clean technologies through the YCA program, she can manage to buy milk for her daughter and support her mother, grandmother, younger sister, and brother. She can even pay for her brother’s high school tuition.
When I first saw Uchi, I wouldn’t have guessed that she had been through such tough times at such a young age. Uchi was always smiling and has a cheerful personality. When asked about her plans for the future, Uchi said with a hopeful voice: "I want to be able to pay for my daughter’s school tuition."
Through this program, not only is Uchi able to provide for her family, but she is also able to contribute to last mile communities by providing them with technologies that can help improve their productivity and health.