Barefoot College started 40 years ago in the small village of Tilonia in Rajasthan India. Here the work of Mahatma Gandhi is kept alive and applied in all the various activities of the College. At Barefoot College, traditional practical knowledge, existing village skills and local wisdom is given more value and importance than so-called qualified ‘experts’.
Barefoot College is the only fully solar-powered college based in a village in India. The whole campus derives its energy from solar power, used for everything any college would need – our many lights and fans, film editing equipment, a photocopier, 40 computers and a dining hall for 100 people. The solar panels were installed by a Hindu priest who has barely done eight years of schooling and the solar components (invertors, charge controllers and battery boxes) were all produced in the college itself by Barefoot women solar engineers.
Over many years, Barefoot College has learnt that men can be harder to train as they are often more mobile and more likely to leave their villages to look for a job in the city. Thus only the very young and the very old are to be found in the most inaccessible villages around the world. Barefoot College’s solution to this was simple: train grandmothers.
Elderly women in remote rural villages however are often illiterate. But just because they cannot read and write we have found there is no reason why they cannot become solar engineers. Illiteracy is not considered a barrier to learning and applying the most sophisticated technology for the benefit of the poorest of the poor. Illiterate Barefoot professionals – architects, designers, engineers, communicators, teachers, doctors and trainers – have demonstrated this is possible. It is now a policy of the Barefoot College to only train illiterate/semi-literate middle-aged mothers and grandmothers. These women come from villages all over the world and represent the poorest of poor, sometimes living on less than 0.50 cents per day.
In 1991 this approach was applied with great success and used to bring solar power to 600 remote inaccessible villages all along the Himalayas from Ladakh in Kashmir to Sikkim in the North East. Illiterate village women were trained for six months using sight, sound and sign language to install this solar power in their villages. Since then, over18,227 houses in 700 villages across India have received solar power.
The Barefoot Approach has also reached remote rural villages in 41 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Illiterate rural mothers and grandmothers who had never before left their villages received training with us in India, taking back to their communities the many benefits of this renewable energy source.
Bunker Roy is a social activist and the Director of Barefoot College, which he founded in 1972.