Our job is to show how it is possible to take an illiterate woman and make her into an engineer in six months and show that she can solar-electrify a village.- Bunker Roy, Founder Barefoot College (Tilonia, Rajasthan).
The students are mostly women. Some are grandmothers. Hundreds have come through here from villages across India and a dozen other countries to learn how to install and maintain solar energy in rural areas. Even though it’s sophisticated coursework, the only pre-requisite for admission to the Barefoot College is that there are no pre-requisites, not even to speak the language.
Bunker Roy founded the Barefoot College in 1972. Projects have always compromised of basic underlying principle of sustainability or self reliance in all aspects of life. Bunker Roy believes,’Any technology that brings in dependency on anybody on the outside is not a technology that will work.’
Over the years Barefoot College has addressed problems of drinking water, girl education, health & sanitation, rural unemployment, income generation, electricity and power, as well as social awareness and the conservation of ecological systems in rural communities. The campus spreads over 80,000 square feet area and consists of residences, a guest house, a library, dining room, meeting halls, an open air theatre, an administrative block, a ten-bed referral base hospital, pathological laboratory, teacher’s training unit, water testing laboratory, a Post Office, STD/ISD call booth, a Craft Shop and Development Centre, an Internet dhaba (cafe), a puppet workshop, an audio visual unit, a screen printing press, a dormitory for residential trainees and a 700,000 litre rainwater harvesting tank. The College is also completely solar-electrified.
Today solar energy drives not just the equipment. This is a larger social experiment to improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. It begins in the classroom run by instructors who themselves have little or no formal education. Instruction is delivered with a mix of body language, a few essential terms in English, and lots of hands-on practice.
The students create an illustrated manual they’ll take home. It’s the closest thing to a diploma certifying their training as solar technicians. But just coming here is an unlikely achievement for students like 56-year-old Sarka Mussara, a widowed grandmother and many others who never attended school or even left her village.
Roy says a key to sustaining rural jobs and development is to use technology that can be managed by the local community, like solar lanterns and technology that’s more familiar, like rainwater collectors. All the roofs of this whole campus are connected underground to a 400,000 liter tank. We collect every drop of rain that falls on the campus.
These women, who come here to train themselves, are obviously going to have a very positive effect on the society. They are going to make sure that their daughters go to school or train themselves to be self reliant in life.
Barefoot College is not only a blessing for women of India, but even outside India. Women from Africa, Afghanistan, and other under-developed parts of the world come here to get trained. Barefoot College has solar electrified some 350 villages across India and dozens more in sub-Saharan Africa and even war-torn Afghanistan.