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Friday, January 3, 2014

Barefoot College Trains Illiterate Grandmas as Solar Electrical Engineers

Here is a terrific idea:

Dr. Sanjit “Bunker” Roy told us about Barefoot College he founded. Dr. Roy travels to the least-developed countries and selects grandmothers who will study in India for six months and return to their communities as solar electricity engineers.

To be considered for enrollment the grandmothers must be illiterate and from remote communities that do not have electricity. They are taught by illiterate instructors and return home transformed into “tigers,” able to electrify their whole village with solar panels. “They know how to fabricate, install, repair, and maintain community solar electrical systems.”

Dr. Roy explained the philosophy behind the Barefoot College. “If you want to change the quality of life of very poor people anywhere in the world, it is important that you take the communities into confidence. Never underestimate the power of poor people who don’t know how to read and write — they are capable of miracles.”  The News, Mexico.

From Barefoot College.org

The Barefoot College encourages rural people to gain practical knowledge and skills.

Himalayan mountain villages suffer severe winters with temperatures dropping to -40°C, and just six hours of daylight. Kerosene lamps provide lighting, but only for those who can afford kerosene and can walk to buy it. The 2003 Ashden award to the Barefoot College recognised its achievement in training semi-literate villagers as ‘Barefoot Solar Engineers’ (BSEs), to install and maintain solar photovoltaic lighting systems in their communities.

– Both fixed solar home systems (SHS), and solar lanterns provided.
– Project works on a community basis. At the start, community must form an Energy and Environment Committee with at least 30% women.
– Committee decides the monthly payment each family must make for their solar lighting system. Payments cover the cost of maintaining the systems.
– Committee choses men and women from the poorest families to train as BSEs.
– BSEs have 3-6 months training at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan. Training covers installation, maintenance and repair of home solar lighting systems, solar water heaters, solar vegetable driers and solar cookers.
– College buys photovoltaic modules, batteries and materials, and the BSEs make other components of the solar systems.
– Six other rural workshops have been established elsewhere in the Himalayas.
– Committee collects monthly payments, checks that families maintain systems, and monitors the work of the BSEs.
– Less reliance on kerosene reduces air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.
– Improved light gives the opportunity for study, relaxation and work.
– Solar water heaters means that water no longer freezes in the cold winters.
– Vegetable driers and spinning wheels generate much needed employment and income.

By 2009, a total of 472 Barefoot Solar Engineers had been trained, in India, other parts of Asia and Africa.
By 2009, about 20,000 solar lighting systems and 65 solar water heating systems installed in 753 villages, as well as vegetable driers and spinning wheels.

The Barefoot College was established in 1972 with the aim of encouraging people to gain practical knowledge and skills rather than achieving paper qualifications. It runs housing, environment, health, education and income generation projects. Training, equipment and other project costs are funded by grants from national and local governments, and international donors, and a US$1.5 million of carbon finance has also been secured. In 2009 the Barefoot College employed 27 people on its renewable energy programme.

“I now look back at my childhood where I always dreamt of doing something big for my society. My mother laughed at me. Now my family and even the village elders respect me and value my contributions.” 
Ritma, a Barefoot Solar Engineer