Barefoot College Experience! If you've ever imagined it was impossible for a grandmother to learn how to build and fix a solar panel...
...try to think how would it be if they didn't even speak the language of the teacher or if many of them were illiterate. Well, that's exactly what Barefoot College does!
Obs: This is going to be a long post... but worth getting to know all the stories!
If you are ever close to Jaipur or Ajmer in India, go for a half day visit to the Barefoot College. This project started on the 70s with it's founder, Sanjit "Bunker" Roy, asking himself why lower caste people would not be allowed to collect potable water from the common water thanks. Woman had the job to go long ways to collect buckets of water for their use everyday. He then decided to face this reality and started to teach some of the illiterate rural people to fix older water pumps... despite much disbelief, he succeeded and the government used those people to teach other people around the country. Their mission since then has been to bring urban knowledge to rural areas in order to improve their life quality.
(Mr. Roy speech at TED in 2011)
They evolved from there and are now providing many different solutions to communities all over the world. One of the main programs is called Solar Mamas, where they literally teach woman (generaly older with kids) to build, install, repair and sell solar generated equipment... all through a practical learning experience. It's not just impressive... it's really, really impressive! Mind changing...
We visited one of their Solar Mama's classes with 40 woman from about 10 different countries at least. They do not speak the same language, don't speak English neither... they just learn some basic signs and for 6 months period they became solar engineers, capable of working and teaching other people at their community how to manage the solar kits...
Some other highlights from our visit:
Ram Niwas was the person showing us around the campus. He's being there for 30 years. Formerly an accountant, he has become the master puppeteer and the responsible for making sketches to communicate important information into rural villages: like health issues, law changes, people's rights, etc... One of his main characters, Jokhim Chacha it's a very known character in the region, and has been to many places in the world spreading Barefoot College message. Ram is passionate about the organization and embodied the spirit of it...
(Barefoot College Introduction by Ram and Jokhim Chacha - The video is not ours, our audio was very bad, so we put this one we found on YouTube)
He introduced us to Kesar Devi, she is the dentist at the campus treating many dental problems. She is also illiterate, but an Italian dentist who visited Barefoot, decided also to embody the spirit, and trained Kesar on an practical way as dentist. She cannot just extract teeth as this is considered surgery in India, but everything else, she does, and also help to educate the community... People's teeth look good at the village, not joking...
He also told us the story of Bhanwar Jat, he's a farmer, also illiterate, but has become a great architect and a specialist on water reuse. He has helped to build one of the newest buildings in the campus which was granted an important architecture prize in India. All the campus is 100% solar energy powered and self sustained in water supply, even in one of the driest regions in India... all by applying their solutions, the ones they teach, on their own buildings.
He gave us other two stories of inspiring woman from Barefoot College Circle:
Norati Bai and Mangi Bai. You should read some of their stories:
All those tree guys we mentioned, Ram and his pupeteer folks have created puppets for them:
They work mainly as an NGO and have a lot of support from India government, but you can support them. Check out the website for better info and to get involved:
Finally, towards the end of the visit, we met Allen. He's a just graduated student of Engineer, he's there for some time as a volunteer helping to improve the solar cooking design, also by practical studies, hand in hand with the woman who builds and teaches people how to do those solar cooking stoves. They are testing different designs and materials to improve efficiency of the current technology they have, designed by a German volunteer in the past.
Those are some of the stories we experienced there.
For us, the most important lesson is how they manage to create life improvement among rural people, breaking all learning barriers possible, creating opportunities, introducing new technology and helping people to develop their business. Very powerful message, we thought.
Even if it's not a company itself, we think this model have great teachings to business. Sometimes creating new channels or new markets are more at hand and can have a great impact into the world than we might think at first with our highly educated minds... 😃
If you can, get the chance to know the Barefoot College and it's people!