Solar Power Generating the Unlikeliest of Heroes

In the five years that Barefoot College has been teaching African grandmothers new skills, 140 of them have provided solar power to 9,118 remote homes in 21 African countries.
solar cooker
Persuading the Indian immigration authorities to grant entry visas to illiterate African grandmothers who claim to be trainee solar engineers is no easy task.

Yet, Sanjit Bunker Roy, an Indian educator, has, since 2005, succeeded in bringing 140 such women to the Barefoot College, a school he founded in 1972 in Tilonia, a village in Rajasthan State, about 95 kilometers, or 60 miles, from the state capital, Jaipur.

“Never in the history of Africa have so many women traveled so far away, for so long, to be trained as solar engineers, without knowing how to read, write or speak the language,” said Mr. Roy at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha in November.

In India, they receive a six-month training course, taught in sign language and color codes, in which they learn to install, maintain and operate household, solar-powered lighting systems.

The women are taught to install integrated circuit boards for solar home lights and off-grid solar units generating up to 500 kilowatts per day. They are also taught to assemble simple solar lanterns and compact fluorescent lamps, parabolic solar cookers and solar water heaters.

Then they return home to electrify their villages.

According to Barefoot College, in the five years since Mr. Roy extended his program to Africa, the 140 women have provided solar power to 9,118 remote homes in 21 African countries.

“When people tell me there are no local solutions, I don’t believe them,” Mr. Roy said. “There is an indigenous solution everywhere.”
Excerpt from


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