Taking Power to the People

What Sort of Development: Making Grandmothers Solar Engineers

 While the Fiji Electricity Authority continues to expand its grid into rural areas  and while government experiments with village wind and solar energy,a Japanese company could soon be approached to help provide solar energy in a big way. The solution for providing cheap, sustainable electricity may be to invest in the Grid Solar Power Solution specifically aimed at rural areas and outer islands provided by the Japanese company, Inter Action Corporation.  Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola hopes to interest local companies in investing in the product.

While solar energy is the obvious technology, less obvious is the means of installation and maintence: outsider, top-down assistance such as that of Inter Action Corp., or a down-up approach that comes from grassroots ownership, with the installation and maintenance carried out by the villagers themselves?  

The Barefoot University
Fiji currently has six village women in India learning about solar energy at one of the Barefoot University campuses. They were recently visited by the PM and the Minister for Women who were both reported to have been impressed by what they saw, but nothing more has been reported publicly since.  

The Barefoot College is an NGO that, with the help of villagers, provides basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities. Its objective is to empower villagers by making them self-sufficient and their activities sustainable. Areas of activity are solar energy, water, education, health  care, rural handicrafts, people’s action, communication, women’s empowerment and wasteland development.

The College believes that for any rural development activity to be successful and sustainable, it must be based in the village as well as managed and owned by those whom it serves. Therefore, all Barefoot initiatives whether social, political or economic, are planned and implemented by a network of rural men and women who are known as ‘Barefoot Professionals’.

Rural men and women irrespective of age, who are barely literate or not at all, and have no hope of getting even the lowest government job, are being trained to work as day and night school teachers, doctors, midwives, dentists, health workers, solar engineers, solar cooker engineers, water drillers, hand pump mechanics, architects, artisans, designers, masons, communicators, water testers, phone operators, blacksmiths, carpenters, computer instructors, accountants and kabaad-se-jugaad professionals.

Sanjit 'Bunker' Roy
With little guidance, encouragement and space to grow and exhibit their talent and abilities, people who have been considered ‘very ordinary’ and written off by society, are doing extraordinary things that defy description. 

If you are not already persuaded that this is the way to go, hear what Barefoot founder Sanjit 'Bunker' Roy has to say on this CNN video.



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