In Malawi, where only about 10% of homes are linked to the electrical grid, an extraordinary group of heroes has risen to light up the community. These are the extraordinary “solar mamas” who have been trained in assembling and setting up solar power units by Barefoot College.
To the ordinary eye these are women who have failed within the traditional education path and are likely not to find any opportunities in this fast-paced world. However, they have gone against all odds and taken up technical paths in a career traditionally dominated by men.
The initiative which started off in India is being sponsored by the Government of India through Barefoot College. Bunker Roy, the founder of Barefoot, who describes the initiative as a college “built by the poor, for the poor,” states that the college does have strict selection criteria: all the students are women, illiterate or semi-illiterate and from small remote communities well off the main electricity grid. They receive training involving non-academic methods (puppets, colours, sign language) in using clean energy and then take what they have learned back to their home communities. Learning by doing, in other words. “It is the only college that doesn’t give out diplomas.”
Women who have gone through the program have managed to achieve financial self-sufficiency for themselves in communities where women are on the economic sidelines. The project is community focused and the initiative for solar electrification has been building strong civil society mechanisms, impacting children’s education, women’s health, gender inequality and economic outcomes, for entire communities.
The impact of women’s involvement in the economy has far-reaching effects. According to the World Bank, women who work invest 90 percent of their earnings back into their families and communities, whereas men only invest a dull 35 percent. This money is usually channelled towards food, healthcare, home renovations, and education for themselves and their children.
More than 160,000 people in Africa have received solar electrification through the ‘Barefoot Approach’, and its unique community-owned and –managed, financially self-sufficient, empowerment model for the poorest of poor communities in 36 countries in Africa.
Header Image Credits: Enel