Social activist Sanjit “Bunker” Roy is doing big things in India. He founded Barefoot College, an organization based in small village Tilonia, which aims to assist the estimated 41 percent of the Indian population living below the international poverty line. Local people are taught through peer-to-peer learning, passing on traditional skills and knowledge rather than having outside educators, and these people are trained as doctors, teachers, engineers, architects, designers, mechanics, communicators and accountants using simple technologies in innovative ways.
Since 2004, Roy has brought women to the now 24 existing colleges inspired by the Barefoot model in India. These women come from 15 African nations, as well as Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bolivia to receive the training required to become solar engineers. So far, Barefoot College has trained 15,000 in skills including solar engineering, health care, water testing and social activism. As a result, around 500,000 people have been able to receive such basic amenities such as health care, clean drinking water and education.
Barefoot College is transforming women. On their campus, you can find women who, just six months earlier, were day laborers now training to become dentists, illiterate farmers now overseeing engineering projects, girls who attend night school at Barefoot so they can still work in the fields during the day and women who united in order to manufacture solar ovens. Roy estimates that the Barefoot solar-electrification program saves two million liters of kerosene every year in India.
26 non-Indian women are currently being trained in Tilonia as part of an approach that has, according to Roy, resulted in 6,300 households outside of India receiving electricity. This has saved approximately 840,000 liters of kerosene every year.
Susanna Adelheid Huis, a 49-year old Barefoot student and grandmother from Namibia, says, “When we go back the people will be very proud of us. Strong ladies. We are not just thinking about ourselves, but about our communities.”
Roy also speaks of the sense of determination and positivity emanating from his students. “They have so much confidence that, on their return, the villagers can’t recognize the people they’ve sent,” he says of the women, “It’s amazing how much they’ve managed to change the equation between men and women. They come as mothers and go back like tigers –- oozing with confidence.”
Photos courtesy of Barefoot College’s annual report.