Solar Sahelis powering up women confidence: Barefoot College
Solar Sahelis powering up women confidence: Barefoot College

By auther pic. Smita Singh

January 30, 2020

Solar Sahelis powering up women confidence: Barefoot College

Barefoot College International Tilonia

Covered with Aravalli Hills, this college named as “Barefoot College” is situated in the beautiful landscape in Tilonia village of Ajmer district, which is around 95 km from Jaipur.


Barefoot College ideally stands for Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC) and is working on the ground for the development of grass-root level problems. It was initiated back in 1965 by Sanjit "Bunker" Roy, a young postgraduate guy from St. Stephen's College, Delhi. He then spent his summer volunteering for providing relief to the poor people affected by the famine in Bihar. He carried out this activity with some of his friends. It was in the backwaters of Bihar state that Roy made a life-changing discovery.


Realizing that women still remained an under-employed and unutilized resource in the Renewable Energy sector. In 1972, Barefoot College came up as an initiative for women prosperity. Barefoot college envisioned effective deployment of woman’s skill that delivers powers for the strengthening of market, technology, the environment, women communities, and the rural poor. 


Sanjit Roy says “I lived with very poor and ordinary people under the stars and heard the simple stories they had to tell of their skills, knowledge, and wisdom that books and university education can never teach you. My real education started when I saw amazing people – water diviners, traditional bonesetters and midwives – at work. That was the humble beginning of the Barefoot College.”


The initiative runs under the name of “Solar Sahelis”.  It is the most holistic program that brings together technology development, Scaling up of Renewable energy distribution, and training of Women entrepreneurs. This approach by Barefoot College works for the target of “Access to Energy for all” and simultaneously establishing a wide network of Women Entrepreneurs who generate wealth in return of energy creation.


The project targets rural women, many of which are illiterate and of low income group. The college trains how to fabricate solar panels, lights and photovoltaic circuits. Getting equipped with these new capabilities, accredited ‘Solar sahelis’ return back with light to their village and communities.


Gender and Access to Energy are the main objectives of Barefoot College. Women Prosper is a comprehensive model that aims woman empowerment and access to energy for all. This model aims for the financial inclusion of the meagre rural population, particularly rural women. Through financial literacy training and access to finance, these Solar Sahelis along with their rural customers will finally have the earning skills and services crucial for improving their lives.


Any woman above 35 years of age, and belong to rural or the inaccessible area which is deprived of electricity can enrol for this solar engineering course, only it is must for her to have support from her village. No one comes for the money, they come for the challenge, the desire to bring fundamental and lasting change, the need to try new ideas, the possibility of making mistakes and learning from that experience instead of giving up and not trying at all. The Ministry of External Affairs in India provides a fellowship that covers the cost for women for their stay in Tilonia.


The lands in Tilonia village is spread in around eight acres, operating entirely on solar power. It is maintained by the Barefoot solar engineers called solar Sahelis. Over 18,000 women from 83 different countries have been given skills training in various fields, but these women solar engineers remain the Centre’s most impactful graduates, providing light and power to over 1,500 villages and 5,00,000+ people worldwide. Despite having never attainted a classroom or learned to read and write, many of these women, now see their kids happily doing their homework at home, or their community people working peacefully with a solar lamp in hand.


Nand Lal, a teacher at Barefoot College in Rajasthan’s Tiloniya says that “It is fascinating to see how women from diverse countries, with no common language between them, communicate and become solar engineers.Initially, it may seem the communication is difficult, but by the end of the six-month course, all the women communicate with each other and become friends”.


The most innovative part of this project has been the Launch of Bindi Solar, it was fabrication, distribution, sales, installation, maintenance and repairing of the first world-class line of solar lighting products entirely by women. The other ground-breaking part of Barefoot College was Partnership with Local Implementing Organizations and Donor Agency.  Its unique training program for illiterate and semi-literate rural women that creates skills and confidence in them.


The major stakeholders in the project were Barefoot College International and IREDA. Their implementation partners were Prayatna Sansthan, SARA, Frontier Markets and TSVS, rural communities of Rajasthan. IREDA has supported in the training of 80 Women at Barefoot College, Tilonia in Rajasthan in the last 6 months. They have also entered the Global Memorandum of Understanding with Multilateral Agencies such as UNDP GEF SGP and UN Women and they are proud to be part of the International Solar Alliance (ISA).


The Barefoot College trains woman from various different countries.They come from least developed and developing countries: from Afghanistan to Ghana and Burkina Faso to Fiji. Till now more than 80 women have been benefited from Rajasthan, 7 women from Jharkhand, 7 women from Bihar, 10 women from Assam, 7 women from Manipur, 36 women from Odisha and many other from different countries. In this group of women, 59% of women are from agricultural backgrounds having annual income less than Rs. 10,500.


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Smita currently finished her masters from Economics Major. Being an introvert personality, writing suits best to her. She has vivid experience in the content area from writing research papers to writing content for various websites, blogs & stories. Smita has worked for a Patna based digital marketing company named DigiwaleBabu.


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