Bunker Roy is the President of Barefoot College – a non-governmental organisation which provides training in rural communities designed to make them more sustainable. On Wednesday, 23 February 2011, Mr Roy addressed a panel at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Demystifying technology and decentralising science to the last woman: The Barefoot Approach To Climate Change
The Barefoot College is the only fully solar electrified College in the world. Started 40 years ago in Tilonia Ajmer District Rajasthan it was a College with a difference. It is one of the few Colleges in India that still believes in the work style and life style of Mahatma Gandhi: the only College built by the poor and managed by the poor who earn less than $ 1/day where traditional knowledge, village skills and practical wisdom is given more importance, value and respect than any paper degree. It is the only College in India where a P.hD or a M.Sc is a disqualification.
It was Mark Twain who said, “Never Let School Interfere with your Education.” Just because someone cannot read and write that is no reason why anyone cannot for instance be an architect, a solar or a water engineer.
Since 2004 it is the only College training illiterate rural mothers and grandmothers from remote, rural inaccessible villages from all over the world. In 6 months in India without using the written or spoken word only through a combination of sight, sound and colour the grand mothers have become solar engineers and solar electrified their own villages.
Over 190 grandmothers between ages 40 and 60 have solar electrified nearly 11,000 houses in over 100 villages spread over 28 countries all over the world saving nearly 1.3 million litres of kerosene from being used as lighting and polluting the atmosphere. Almost all the Least Developed Countries in the whole Continent of Africa have been covered. The total cost to complete this work from 2004 to 2010 has been close to $ 2.5 million. What the UNDP and the western experts are wasting on One Millennium Village (out of 14) in Africa and offering as a solution for replication.
What lessons have we learnt from the barefoot approach?
First, that men are “untrainable”. They are restless, ambitious, compulsively mobile and all want a certificate. And the moment they get a certificate they leave their village within hours looking for a job in a city. Training grandmothers as solar engineers instead is a sound human investment. The Barefoot College has not had one failure so far.
Second, the top down patronizing approach where the solutions have been conceived in the North and thrust down without prior consultation or dialogue on villages in the South has proved disastrous. It has not worked and will never work. There can never be an urban solution to a rural problem facing the poor.
Third, for the rural inaccessible rural communities all over the world the demystified, decentralized solution where the technology is managed, controlled and owned by the communities is the long term low cost replicable and sustainable solution.
Empowered illiterate rural solar grandmothers have quietly changed mindsets and the whole face of Africa by solar electrifying their own villages without the technical help of any paper qualified engineers.