title: lighting up lives

prologue: “The Barefoot College is a place of learning and unlearning. It's a place where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher. It's a place where NO degrees and certificates are given because in development there are no experts-only resource persons. It's a place where people are encouraged to make mistakes so that they can learn humility, curiosity, the courage to take risks, to innovate, to improvise and to constantly experiment. It's a place where all are treated as equals and there is no hierarchy.”

The Barefoot College will work anywhere, in any poor rural community anywhere in the world where:
  • there is extreme poverty.

  • the rural communities are neglected, deprived and forgotten so they have no choice but to develop and depend on their own knowledge and skills.

  • where families in the communities depend on each other and not on people from the outside - thus all knowledge and all skills are useful, necessary and respected.

  • where the percentage of illiteracy is high so the oral tradition is rich, and knowledge and skills are traditionally passed down from one generation to another.
what: the Barefoot College (Rajasthan, India) has, since 1990, provided lighting using solar panels in over 136 remote and virtually inaccessible Himalayan villages.

As part of Barefoot College’s commitment to demystifying the technology of solar energy and demonstrating that poor communities can manage their own solar power without any technical help from the outside, 90 men and 19 women, many of whom are illiterate, have been trained as Barefoot engineers to install and maintain the fixed units and solar lanterns provided.

results: the change that has taken place in the lives of over 15,000 people now benefiting from solar energy has been immense. No longer do they have to walk for 2 days to get a 20 litre jerry can of kerosene that has to last for a month. The work of the Barefoot College has
  • created significant employment opportunities,

  • facilitated night schooling in the winter,

  • regenerated wasteland through the use of solar water pumps and, most importantly,

  • ensured a growing collective confidence among the communities involved to look after their own solar electrified villages across the Himalayas.
woman’s voice: Ritma Bharati is 26 and belongs to West Champaran District in Bihar. Her village, Buharva had no electricity. All activities stopped at sunset, including at the shop her husband runs. She heard about solar energy workshops and decided she wanted to attend one. In spite of her mother-in-law's disapproval, she took off and six months later returned with 80 solar lanterns. She has trained many villagers and today over 75 lanterns are being used to run schools, shops and medical centres late into the evening. "I now look back at my childhood when I always dreamt of doing something big for my society. My mother used to laugh at me. Today my family, my neighbours and even the village elders respect me and value my contributions. It feels wonderful”, she says.

Ritma is one of the proud alumni of the Solar Engineering Programme of the Barefoot College, supported by the Indian Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy, the European Commission and the UNDP.

Today, Barefoot Solar Engineers work across eight states in India: Rajasthan, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Uttaranchal, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Sikkim. They set up solar energy systems in areas where electricity supply is either non-existent or erratic.

epilogue: “The project has empowered women” says Maurice Dewulf, Deputy Senior Resident Representative of the UNDP. “It has also proved that solar energy provides a solution not just for cooking but for education, health and income generation”, he adds.

Above all, it has shown the positive impact technology can have on simple lives and more than that it has shown how poor people can master technologies and put them to use.