In Rajasthan, India, an extraordinary school teaches rural women and men — many of them illiterate — to become solar engineers, artisans, dentists and doctors in their own villages. It’s called the Barefoot College, and its founder, Bunker Roy, explains how it works.
Bunker Roy is a social activist and has given considerable inputs and efforts in the field of education, women empowerment, water scarcity, skill development, drinking water, electrification through harnessing solar power etc. In fact, he was appointed by the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to the Planning Commission of the Indian Government.
He was selected as one of Time 100’s 100 most influential personalities in 2010 for his work in educating illiterate and semi literate rural Indians.
Registered under Friends of Tilona Inc., Barefoot College has been hard at work for the upliftment of rural people, develop their skills, empower women, and encourage discussions over trivial problems faced by them and find out the best possible way out of it. The Social work Research Center founded in 1972 was established after a severe drought had hit many areas. Bunker Roy surveyed around 100 such sites with the aim to find possible solutions and help the residents. He cited water pumps around the villages in both conventional and traditional way and trained the villagers to maintain the pumps and use they efficiently to manage their water woes not only for the present but in times to come. As the center developed they started working on many more domains that ranged from not only water related issues but also empowerment of underprivileged especially women to sustainable development in the resources available with dedication and enthusiasm.
Inspired by Gandhi’s idea of self-sustainability, the center recruits women with minimal or no education and rigorously trains them in solar engineering, electrical engineering, handicrafts etc. which are further sold or used by the villagers themselves. A Village Environment and Energy Committee formed by a few elected villagers carry out discussions on various topics that decide the cost of manufacturing solar panels and methods for effectively implementing the same. The decision is not superficially taken but takes into consideration the poorest household in the village also so that the development is enjoyed by everyone. The discussion is then implemented with the available resources. They also promote the idea ‘learner is a teacher and teacher is a learner’ and encourage them to share their knowledge and train even more people across the barriers of language and nationalities to enhance their skills and knowledge. The center has also expanded its resources to reach out to the needy in other countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with a special focus on training women as it rightly believes that educating a woman educated the whole generation.
Their work and methodology have attracted sponsors from various parts of the world which grant the center to make their day to day activities possible. In addition to this, the products such as handicraft items also add to their income after they are sold in the market.
The center is strict about its rules and regulation and firmly believes in values such as austerity, equality, collective decision making, decentralization, self-evaluation, transparency, and accountability. The initiative has touched the lives of many and continues to do so endlessly. Barefoot college has helped Yatris understand that there is a