Barefoot College – the incredible story of Solar Mamas

Grandmothers, illiterate, trained to become experts in solar panels to illuminate their villages. Some untouchable became doctors, architects or accountants…

This is not just a great story. This is the reality.


Chapter I: Incredible Grandmas


Seated around a table, some women are aligned, soldering iron in one hand and circuit-board in the other. Concentrated, they had a 5 months training to create solar lantern and panels.


When you look at them, working, it’s barely impossible to recognize the teacher. The Barefoot College want to break away from the ‘social work tradition’. The teacher, a 50 year old woman, is a former Barefoot College’s student who has decided to teach to new woman. Here, teaching does not come from books or universities in urban areas, nor by volunteers or other national/international aid.


Women have been trained from scratch, learning to identify and code ‘colors’ with a local language for electricity system and tools, discussing just with images, words and colors. They are now able to:

  • understand how resistors, electrical and other measuring devices works,
  • handle charge controllers and advanced converters (solar cells produce direct current (DC) which is converted into standard alternating current (AC) through a converter),
  • install solar panels and link them to batteries,
  • build solar lanterns,
  • establish a local electronic workshop where they can make themselves any necessary repairs on the solar power system, regardless of their importance.



Who are these women ?

Illiterate grandmothers, single mothers, excluded or considered useless in their village. They are chosen by a consensus between Barefoot College and their community.

Barefoot College

They have left their microenvironment of Rajasthan, South India or West Bengal for 6 months of training and then return to their villages, stronger and respected as new engineers specialized in solar panels with the power to provide the light throughout their community. They can create, repair, maintain and pass on their knowledge to other women of the surrounding villages.


Why grandmothers, why illiterate women ?

As said Bunker Roy, founder of the Barefoot College “We trained men, only to find that having gained knowledge and skills, they went to offer them in the cities. [Women] feel responsible for their village. “The grandmothers living in rural areas are more attached to their community and less likely to migrate, which keeps the knowledge and technology in the community. They share their specialized knowledge, thus ensuring the sustainability of the project.


Chapter II : Not only here


Walking a few more steps around, we arrive in another building, also entirely run by solar panels (all buildings are part of an old medical campus from colonial times, and rented for one symbolic Indian Roupi to the government).

The lessons here are made of signs and mixed English / Indian sentences (good / no good …). We quickly understand by looking at the panel of women that they come from different countries of the world: South Sudan, Lesotho, Cuba, Philippines, Burma, Tanzania…

Here is the international section to train “Solar Mamas” across the world.

After the success in India, the Barefoot College is striving to train grandmothers from different backgrounds and community to improve the living conditions in all the villages of the world!

During our visit, we met a group of women who completed their 6 months training and are going back to their respective villages.

Everything they produce during those 6 months is then sent to their country to be used in their villages.


We were amazed by the warm atmosphere between these wives from so different environments!! Most of the women had never took a flight and did not even know where to locate India on a map, but they now leave this place with the ambition to open a training center or even a Barefoot College in their countries: we particularly learned that a “Barefoot made in Tanzania” would open its doors!

We hope to visit it by the end of the year…


Chapter III: Much more than solar panels


Barefoot College is much more than Solar Mamas…

Health centers, night’s schools for children who help their parents during the day, self-help women groups, a radio station, a solar ovens company, a place for recycling objects and even a communication team that reaches the villagers through puppet shows …


Here, doctors, acupuncturists and dentists are happy not to have patients: it means that prevention works! The children formed their parliament and assert their rights. Women have access to all the jobs they want … and not just in the little village of Tilonia. Indeed, the Barefoot College has many structures all over this vast country. Through the influence of Bunker Roy, the Indian government provides support and assistance to the development of Barefoot College activities.


Chapter IV: Beyond the impact generated, a mentality


The solar mamas are paid by the community for the maintenance of facilities through the money that was previously spent on the purchase of kerosene or candles.

Over the past 10 years, more than 1,000 villages in over 63 countries have benefited from sunlight provided by solar mamas.

In 2015, Barefoot College has trained more than 600 women from less developed countries of the world.

“Barefoot College follows the lifestyle and work of Gandhi, which is based on a principle of simplicity in life, food and work. People come here for the challenge, not for money. No one can earn over $ 100 per month at the Barefoot College, says Bunker Roy. This is the only school where the papers, diplomas and doctorates are a disadvantage, because the value of a person is judged on the basis of honesty, integrity, compassion, practical skills, creativity and ability to work with people without discrimination.”



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