2010 Finalist: Barefoot College
Barefoot Women Solar Engineers of Africa, Asia and Latin America
The Barefoot approach has reached remote rural inaccessible villages in 15 of the least developed countries in Africa. Illiterate rural mothers and grandmothers who have never left their villages in their lives within 6 months of training (without using the written word) in India have solar electrified their own villages.
ENTRY APPLICATION: PDF
WEBSITE: Barefoot College
FEATURE VIDEO: PBS-Religion and Ethics
Barefoot College of Tilonia, Rajasthan, India
Critical Need Being Addressed
A rural family in Africa burns around 60 liters of kerosene a year to light their home. The average kerosene lamp in Africa spews out a ton of CO2 in less than 10 years. Solar lighting can replace kerosene and wood, which will improve the health of the people and the environment.
Description of Initiative
The College believes the very poor have every right to have access to, control, manage and own the most sophisticated of technologies to improve their own lives. Just because they cannot read and write there is no reason why the very poor women cannot be water and solar engineers, designers, communicators, midwives, architects and rural social entrepreneurs. They have shown the impossible is possible.
It is now a policy of the Barefoot College ONLY to train illiterate/semi-literate middle aged mothers and grandmothers from villages all over the world. Illiterate grandmothers have shown they are capable of fabricating, installing and maintaining solar lighting systems after undergoing six months of hands-on training without written materials, tutored by unschooled Indian women who have been able to transmit the same skills.
Nearly 110 rural grandmothers have solar electrified 5,500 remote rural houses in 15 African countries. An extraordinary story because grandmothers are considered useless in rural African society and after their return they have become role models for other women.As a result they have managed to save 30,000 liters of kerosene per month from polluting the atmosphere all over Africa.
The Barefoot College was selected by the jury as a Runner Up in the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge. Bunker Roy is an inspiring leader with a clear vision for the power of grassroots action and has a solid, distributed team. The program has a long track record, continuing to broaden training while also supporting many other sustainability objectives.
The interview with Bunker Roy added a greater understanding of the power of this human-centered program. The keystones of the project are self reliant learning/mentoring/praxis/hands-on training for empowerment and community-based self sufficiency which has shown to be replicable across diverse geographic and cultural areas. One of the strongest features of the program is that it does not depend on language or culture to carry out the trainings. The program effectively demonstrates a decentralized approach in every sense of the word, requiring certification to come from within the communities themselves. By training and empowering insider experts - grandmothers who are traditionally the cornerstone of the community - rather relying on outside experts, they are also instilling pride in the center of the community along with the skill sets.
Dr. Roy described examples demonstrating how the college is building a global mentorship network of former students who continue to empower each other. Their diverse funding base coming from both private foundations and governments is leveraged to the greatest advantage of their constituents. They have also sustained the program through the online sale of traditional crafts.
PEOPLE: About Bunker Roy, Founder of Barefoot College
Bunker Roy founded the Barefoot College, a school that is only for the poor. Roy asserts that rural India is full of professionals who are not recognized for their skills, such as water diviners and traditional midwives. His college is open only to people without a formal education and seeks to combine the knowledge of the local people with modern technologies.
Roy has found that the knowledge the students bring to the College has allowed them to create buildings that harvest rainwater and win architectural awards without a professional architect's involvement. The students share knowledge and learn other skills which they can take back to their communities.