In some villages in Africa and around the world, you can find powa mamas: grandmothers who successfully manage the solar panels that supply electricity to their village. Trained in a school designed by and for the poorest populations, these women spent more than 6 months away from their families to acquire all the necessary skills.
In the 1970s, Bunker Roy, a young graduate of a prestigious Indian school, decided to live in some of the remote villages of his country. He brought together a group of men and women who never went to school. Together they built Barefoot College, a school that adapts to the functioning of rural villages by offering programs adapted to their needs.
A night school was set up to provide access to education for children working during the day. The school also offered a training program around access to solar energy.
It was obvious that women brought more to the community than men, putting their knowledge at the service of the village. Barefoot College then decided to train mainly women and especially grandmothers, the pillars of the villages.
To transmit this knowledge to these mostly illiterate Mamas, Barefoot College created a specific language, based on signs and colours and has developed a whole training programme around this approach.
In 2007, Barefoot College moved beyond its borders to offer its programs to other women around the world. Mamas from all over Africa participated in the training in India and in 2015, the first school in Africa opened in Zanzibar. Since then, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Liberia and Madagascar have opened a school in partnership with local organisations. Each of these countries is now a regional centre for training mamas across the continent.
Once trained, the “Solar Mama” returns to the village with a kit of solar panels. Each inhabitant pays a contribution that allows him or her to have access to electricity and to pay the mamas.
To go further and bring other skills to these women, Barefoot College created ENRICHE, a program that supports women empowerment on topics such as education, citizenship, the environment, health, digital literacy, human rights and microfinance. From this programme, several projects have emerged, including training in beekeeping and sewing with the production of reusable sanitary pads.
It’s by starting from the needs of disadvantaged populations and by training a local pedagogical team that Barefoot College has succeeded in offering tools and knowledge to the most disadvantaged. Today, 2200 women have graduated from the program and now provide access to electricity to more than 1 million people.
More than a school, Barefoot College is a beautiful lesson of humility where orientations are made for and by the most disadvantaged. It has witnessed success and positive development throughout the world for several years.
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