Barefoot College has an effective educational model for rural development—educate and empower those people who care about the local community most to be able to make a difference. Barefoot founder Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, he has found that the best candidates are women, and often they are grandmothers.
Founded by Roy in 1972, Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan recruits women from around the world to come to the college campus in India for six months, where they learn simple skills in solar engineering. The six-month course allows women time to learn, practice, and perfect their knowledge base before returning home to their villages where they pass on their valuable new skill. In a recent interview with CNN, Roy notes that men are simply too restless and that women are much more likely to take the knowledge back to share with their communities.
The Barefoot Campus itself provides visitors with a demonstration of exactly how efficient solar energy can be in rural communities. The electricity for the entire College is solar-generated—women eat three meals a day from stoves that use solar energy and night classes take place thanks to solar-powered lanterns.
Named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2010, Roy has trained over a hundred women recruited from countries all over the world, including Afghanistan, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo. And because these women pass on their knowledge to others in their communities, the College has indirectly trained many more people. Because women attend the Barefoot College from all over the world, the common language for the curriculum through symbols, signs, and colors. Women learn to operate solar lamps and chargers, which allow them to harness the energy of the sun for fuel instead of relying on expensive fuels for purchase such as diesel, kerosene, or gasoline.
In places like rural India and Africa, solar chargers are becoming increasingly important as a means of powering mobile phone batteries. The ability to charge one mobile phone within a community provides a wealth of valuable information–from market prices for crops and weather reports to health information.
Amanda Strickler is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.