An opportunity provided to an illiterate rural woman is having a direct benefit on hundreds of families in Malaysia. 47-year old Tarahing Masanin, from the rural district of Kota Maradu, on Sabah, trained with the Barefoot College in India, to become a solar engineer.
Masanin’s training lasted for six months and was carried out entirely by doing practical, hand-on work, and through the use of visual aids, such as iPads. The whole course is designed in a non-verbal way, as its participants are usually illiterate and have no knowledge of English or other languages, apart from their own native dialects.
Thanks to this training, Masanin is now a qualified solar engineer – or “solar mama”, as the successful participants are called – and has facilitated access to solar power for hundred of homes back in her community.
Masanin’s community is not, of course, the only beneficiary of this type of education. In its 40 years of existence, Barefoot College has provided useful skills to underprivileged women in countries across the world. An estimated 50,000 homes in 500 villages, spread across 78 countries, now have access to solar power, thanks to the school’s efforts.
The founder of Barefoot College, Sanjit Roy – also known as “Bunker” – is an Indian social activist who has managed to find an effective way to reach out and help rural communities around the globe. Speaking in Tokyo, at the World Assembly of Women 2016, he shared some of the insights gained from his interaction with its participants.
“The solar-mamas know more about solar energy than any graduate after five years of university? Why? Because they are taught in a practical manner. It is only practice, practice and practice. Every six months, about forty women come to Barefoot College. All grandmothers, all illiterate, all learning through their hands”, said Roy.
Roy went on to explain how each participant’s community is given an electronic workshop upon their completion of the course. Even at this point, there is no verbal language involved. If the solar mama needs new parts, she can order them by simply tapping their picture on the workshop’s iPad.
The World Assembly of Women is part of an initiative set up by Shinzo Abe – Prime Minister of Japan – to enfranchise women, both in Japan and around the world. These goals are in line with the vision of Barefoot College:
“We are trying to prove a point that any woman, whether or not she has been to school or college, can pick up the most sophisticated profession. Illiteracy should not be a barrier”, Roy asserted. He explained how, when the women return home, they become highly regarded. They now possess skills that no man in their village has – sometimes one that nobody in the country possesses. The training not only transforms the lives of these women, but has a positive effect on the whole community. Not only that, it shows other women opportunities they may not have been aware of.
Barefoot College receives funding from the Indian government, United Nations subsidiaries and various NGOs. Click here to learn more about the Barefoot College.
(Photos by HelloChange)