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Invention of sandfly repellent earns SMK Lutong spot in Petronas’ AAY 2017 grand finale

Chloe (front, centre) and her team show the processes involved in making their organic sandfly repellent during the state-level AAY 2017 round in Miri.

KUCHING: Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, as demonstrated by 16-year-old Chloe Yeo Lok Yee and her SMK Lutong team.

The Form 4 student, whose school is just a stone’s throw from the sandfly-infested Lutong beach in Miri, is allergic to the insect’s bite.

It is because of this that she has been avoiding the beach.

“I get skin inflammation every time I get bitten. The repellents available in the market are not effective.”

However, she never thought of inventing a sandfly repellent until she was selected together with 19 of her school-mates to compete in the Petronas All About Youth (AAY 2017) finale.

This programme challenges participating teams to develop a product that can benefit the community, and also the nation in general.

For Chloe and her team, their response was almost instinctive – they decided to develop an organic sandfly repellent using lemongrass and ginger oil extracts.

“The product can be applied directly onto the skin or used as an additive to a humidifier to keep sandflies away from homes,” she said, pointing out that lemongrass and ginger have long been used by the Orang Ulus to soothe the pain and irritation caused by sandfly bites.

“So we decided to experiment; to see if we could develop an effective repellent using the same ingredients.

“We succeeded in finding a way to extract oils from lemongrass and ginger roots, and use these ingredients to produce a liquid-based spray.”

The repellent, labelled as ‘SEWANGIA’, beat nine other inventions during the state-level AAY 2017 round in Miri recently.

The national-level competition will be held in Kuala Lumpur this Nov 16.

Chloe’s team will be up against finalists from Sabah, Johor, Terengganu and Melaka.

The grand winner will bring home RM50,000, while teams placing second and third will receive RM10,000 and RM5,000, respectively.

In addition, each member of the winning team will receive cash and tokens worth RM1,000, while those from the first and second runner-up teams will each be given cash and tokens worth RM800 and RM500, respectively.

“We are very proud to represent Sarawak in the grand finale. We are confident that we will do well,” she enthused.

Chloe also said due to SEWANGIA’s organic nature, it has great potential in the repellent market.

“People usually use mosquito repellents to prevent sandfly bites, but they contain chemicals that are not good for our skin.

“Our product is organic and safe.

“It could be a hit among consumers, especially the beachgoers,” she said.

Meanwhile, SMK Lutong principal Michael Bus expressed his pride with Chloe and her team for making it to the finale of AAY 2017.

He also commended Petronas for providing such platform, which serves to unearth students’ creativity and potential.

“I am confident that the participating students have learnt a lot from this competition especially in organising, problem solving and creative-thinking skills.

“They have also learnt the value of teamwork and cooperation.”

Last year, SMK Tatau from Sarawak won the ‘AAY All Star edition’, defeating teams from 29 other schools with a project entitled ‘Green Toilet’ — an eco-friendly toilet built to effectively save energy using solar gutter lights and rainwater.