This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Aditee Das. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Come, Meet These ‘Solar Mamas’ Of Rajasthan!

More from Aditee Das

Representative imageA 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)

Representative image
Solar mamas in the making

How The Solar Mamas’ Came Into Existence?

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. 

Representative image
Rigorous training of women from different parts of the world. Source: Barefoot College

Impact Of The Training

  • 300 million litres of kerosene replaced with clean energy for light, heat and cooking
  • 1 million people with access to light.
  • 96 countries benefited with trained barefoot solar engineers
  • 4020 grams of harmful CO2 avoided by replacing kerosene with solar.
  • 18,047 households with solar systems installed.
  • Global outreach

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.

Representative image
Barefoot graduates/ Source: Barefoot college

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.

Representative image
Barefoot solar engineers with their ray of hope.
Representative image
Women reaching new heights barefoot with a ladder of hope- The Solar Power

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.

( The images used are for representation purposes)
You must be to comment.

More from Aditee Das

Similar Posts

By PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia) India

By Divya Arvind Patel

By Prashant Rai

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below