South Bay teens create award-winning way to fight drought | #students | #parents

Aarushi Wadhwa, a student at Campbell’s Westmont High School, has discovered a unique way to conserve water and combat drought. Her team’s project, Aqua-Pods, took the top prize in the environment category in this year’s Ashoka Changemaker Challenge.

Begun about 40 years ago, the Ashoka Foundation has supported social entrepreneurs as they bring ideas to address world problems. In recent years, T-Mobile and its foundation have partnered with Ashoka to support innovation among youth.

“Our project is addressing the problem of water wastage by humans on a global scale,” said Aarushi, who lives in San Jose’s Cambrian neighborhood. She cited studies by the United Nations and other agencies that show that almost half of the freshwater used annually for agriculture and irrigation purposes is wasted due to overwatering, evaporation and runoff.

Besides environment, the other categories in this year’s challenge were technology and education. Aarushi’s team was among five finalists in their category; entries came from across the country.

In developing Aqua-Pods, Aarushi’s team conducted research, met with experts and visited local nurseries; Julie Reynolds-Grabbe, a University of California Master Gardener, became her mentor.

In essence, Aqua-Pods soak up excess water and, infused with nutrients, release it periodically to water plants.

“These are biodegradable sponges containing a proprietary blend of natural ingredients found in kitchen waste,” Aarushi said.

Aarushi’s interest in creating a product to bring to market began in middle school, when she enrolled in a summer program called Berkeley Business Academy for Youth.

“That was where I was introduced to corporate social responsibility,” she added.” My dad used to drive me every single day to Berkeley for the program.”

At that time, California was experiencing a severe drought. “I distinctly remember seeing signs with the words ‘Brown is the new green’ popping up in every neighborhood,” Aarushi said.

She was president of her school’s environmental club, and they did creek clean-ups and watered the school’s trees. “We would pour buckets of water, never knowing when we were overwatering.”

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