Barefoot College in Tilonia, a small village in Ajmer district in Rajasthan is not just another college in the ordinary sense of the term.
Bunker Roy, a visionary and a social activist, established the college with a different objective. His mission was to solve problems like drinking water quality, female education, health and sanitation, rural unemployment, income generation, electricity and power, as well as social awareness and the conservation of ecological systems in rural India.
Roy, born to an upper middle-class Indian family, received what he described as a “very snobbish, elitist, expensive education,” which he believes imparts arrogance without providing the kind of practical knowledge needed in poor villages.
He has embarked on a new mission that has redefined education and literacy. His initiative to provide grandmothers from Africa with training in solar engineering has earned huge accolades from all over world.
These women, called solar mamas, are sent to Barefoot College for six months to learn how to create solar lighting to bring back to their villages in Africa. They must be grandmothers and illiterate to qualify for the program.
After these women are equipped with necessary skills and knowledge, they go back to their villages in Africa, not only do they bring back solar lighting, illuminating homes and providing electricity to their rural communities, they also bring back pride and accomplishment, gaining the respect of the villagers.
Solar mamas are role models, changing the way women are viewed by their communities and empowering them within it.
Through this programme Roy has truly redefined literacy and education. “Illiteracy should not be a barrier” to accomplishment and esteem, he says. Solar mamas are perfect students because, as he explains, “The best part of being illiterate is that you don’t forget.”
When the materials and solar panels they made in India arrive back in their communities where they will be assembled, the women know exactly what to do to electrify the village.