A Non-Profit Organization registered in February 1972 in the name of Social Work and Research Centre also known as the Barefoot College is located in a small village called Tilonia, 350 kilometres southwest of Delhi in Rajasthan state. The organization was started by Director Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy with a certain set of commitments.
It is a community-based model wherein all operations are owned, managed and run by the non-elitist section of the society i.e. by the poor and for the poor, the destitute. It has been addressing the rural problems in the areas of water, education, livelihood improvement, empowering the rural poor, effective communication and solar electrification.
The interesting thing about this college is that it is the only college where degrees, diplomas and doctorates are not taken into consideration because people are judged not according to their degree of literacy or academic distinction but by their attributes such as honesty, integrity, compassion, creativity, skills, adaptability and willingness to learn and inculcate the knowledge for the betterment of the community they reside with.
In a country where a degree is given more priority over skills and knowledge, Barefoot College challenges the formal education system and paper qualified degree by training the rural poverty-stricken men and women with little or no schooling experience for free of cost. It encourages a hands-on-training process of gaining practical knowledge rather than written tests and paper-based qualifications. (We can only assume of its existence, but it is for real)
Barefoot College is working relentlessly to empower women to become ‘Barefoot engineers’ or ‘Solar Engineers‘ since four decades and here we are unaware of the fact that something like this even exists, isn’t it? In Rajasthan, many of the villages have limited access to electricity, they are dependent on kerosene and fuel-wood to light up their homes. In addition to this, they are not fortunate enough to use gas stoves, so they only resort to tradition cooking by using fuel-wood and kerosene.
This pattern of using fuel-wood and kerosene is extremely harmful to the environment as well as responsible to deteriorate the health of women who are constantly exposed to the perils caused due to traditional cooking. To address the problem with the pertaining situation, the college started the solar programme first in the 1990s to provide access to electricity in the remote and isolated parts of India.
“It is the only fully solar electrified college built and run by the rural poor”.
The programme went global and has been replicated in developing and least developed countries from Africa and the Middle East. Since 2004, Barefoot college has been teaching solar engineering skills to illiterate older women from rural communities, with no access to electricity and clean drinking water. Women are indeed agents of change that is why the organization trains these women to become solar engineers and to use solar cookers, solar desalination plants and water heaters. Then they go back to their villages and support the installation of solar lamp kits. This is how the cycle of solar power continues.
If you find a solution for a woman, she finds a solution for the family, her community and her country but this is not in case with the man. Ask why? A man will acquire the set of skills and knowledge and will ultimately migrate to cities in search of jobs and opportunities leaving the community behind, as usual, same story but a woman in rural poverty-stricken areas will always stay back and continue to contribute to whatever she can to the community. So, barefoot took the initiative to exclusively train women to become ‘Barefoot Solar Engineers’.
The women are chosen by Barefoot College to become solar engineers after a training period of 6 crucial months and finally get the title of ‘Solar Mamas’.This nickname is based on the idea that these women will become engineers while continuing to fulfil their existing roles as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and women with family roles and responsibilities.
Addressing 14/17 Sustainable Developmental Goals is the most sought after commitment taken up by the organization which is indeed commendable. It should get maximum coverage and social attention instead of the so-called viral sensation called ‘Binod’ (We should bow our heads in shame cause we are indeed part of the clan)
While we are busy debating behind the screens in the comfort of our own homes whether Solar energy is the future or we are on the verge of falling prey to the so called ‘Nirvana fallacy’, these Solar Mamas are working in the field day and night to achieve their long lost dream of becoming women of substance ,a decision maker, strong independent women banging all possible doors of patriarchy thereby keeping an eye on the ocean of opportunities provided to them for livelihood promotion and empowerment.
As of today, 2,546 Solar Mamas are meeting 14/17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. It is providing access to light in 1,896 villages across 96 countries. Today, Barefoot has Solar Mamas on 14 Pacific Islands, 39 African countries, 19 Latin/Central/South American Countries, and 18 Asian Countries. The travel expenses for the training of women from all the developing countries are funded by the Ministry of External Affairs, GOI along with several NGO’s.
It just breaks my heart to know how the women from all developing countries – war-driven, poverty-stricken, natural disaster laden refugees come to Barefoot, leaving everything behind, the family, the responsibilities for 6 months to prove their existence that they are capable of doing anything when provided the golden opportunity to climb the ladder and touch the sky.
The language is the prime barrier but still, they manage to learn the language of engineering and go back to their respective countries with not only the title ‘Solar Mamas’ but with the confidence, a fire within them, a fire so bright that they are capable to light up an entire village with the acquired skill set of being a solar engineer.
The women, therefore, not only learn the skill but also attain the confidence to look at improving their lives with a fresh perspective. This confidence further lays the foundation in taking leadership roles to train more women in their communities and enlighten more lives associated with them in the long run.
Solar mamas are doing their part in addressing climate change, fulfilling 14/17 SDGs. They might not know what they are doing is indeed a silent revolution in its own, but….. what are we doing? What the elite section of the society is doing? Where the environmentalists at? Oh! how can I even forget about the masterstroke draft EIA? It’s time we keep our elitism at rest and address climate change for real. Collective voices will certainly speak volume. It won’t go in vain.
Finally, a big shoutout to all the strong and independent solar mamas out there. Words are just falling short to appreciate the beauty of their existence. Solar mamas are indeed an epitome of women empowerment. If this is not empowering women, I don’t know what is.
‘It’s time we go solar because this is the kind of contagion we need.