One of the Solar Mamas of the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan.
The Solar Mama : a woman to change life in a village
Text by Thomas Deflandre
Do you know there is a small village in the middle of Rajasthan where you can meet women from Latin America, Africa, Asia, … all in the same college?
This has been made possible by Barefoot College in Tilonia!
One mission of the Barefoot College is to empower women by becoming Solar Mama, that’s to say Solar engineer in their village where access to electricity is a real issue. The Solar Mamas are for most illiterate, in their mid or old ages but have a strong eager to succeed and often have been chosen by their community to join this program.
If there is one thing we can be sure about is how brave they are. Think about it, they spent their entire life in the same small village in off grid location of Brazil, Cameroun or Indonesia and they’ll leave this village, take for the first time a plane and leave behind their family for 6 months! I think most of us couldn’t do it.
Visit of the campus
When we arrived, Lucile, a French volunteer, gave us a tour. Don’t expect anything fancy, buildings are basics in a very small village at one hour from the nearest city. The guesthouse is 2 single beds with a basket as a shower. Though, everything is there such as a Post office, ATM, handicraft shop, doctor. Also important to notice a huge effort have been made to run the campus as sustainable as possible with for instance waste management, electricity and hot water via solar energy, permaculture, …
During their stay Mamas will have the opportunity to follow several workshops thanks to a program named Enriche. Those workshops are there to build their confidence and learn additional topics on top of electricity. All of them are interesting but to me 2 really stepped out:
- One about health where they can speak without taboo about anything: menstruations, anatomy, diet and some women even learnt the gender of children is given by chromosome X or Y from man – it’s a revolution since in their communities women are blamed for giving girls.
- Second is about entrepreneurship. They learn basics to start their business and can join an incubator named B.Barefoot.
We met Nishit who is leading B.Barefoot. He has a strong background in marketing and his job is to coach these women, not by giving answers but actually by challenging them with questions.
“I’m a horse where you put the saddle on and I try to go as far as possible”
Currently the incubator is working on 3 products: honey, coffee and Super 5 (a secret recipe of cereals which provides all needed nutriments for an healthy diet). Those products where initial skills from women who joined the Solar Mama training and Nishit helped them build their confidence and create income through fair-trade market penetration without sacrificing family time. Those products are now available in palaces of Jodhpur and Udaipur.
Interview of a Solar Mama:
We had the opportunity to get an interview of Nancy Kanu from Sierra Leone.
Nancy has an amazing story, she came to Barefoot a first time in 2007 to become a Solar Mama. At that time she had financial problems, lost her 9 months baby and a family of 18 persons in her house.
So when the NGO came to her village looking for a Solar Mama she wanted to believe in this opportunity. Her husband was really supportive, he accepted to put on hold his mechanical job to take care of the family and the house during the 6 months training of Nancy.
The journey to the Barefoot College wasn’t easy but the local NGO did support her to get a visa and for the logistic. On top of the journey and the anxiety to leave her family for 6 months, Nancy was stressed about the training: she didn’t know anyone and all the Mamas came from different countries with their own cultures and languages.
Surprisingly the on-boarding was easy, probably because every woman was facing the same anxiety, they managed to discuss together and the Barefoot’s team was really good to support them, even the food was made to satisfy as many diets as possible.
Nancy left her village with a dream to come back with education and as a solar engineer. Now she realizes she overachieved her expectations: she indeed came back as a solar engineer but she has also brought light to her village, has created a training center and has earned the trust of the entire community including her husband who works with her now.
Why coming back in 2019? Nancy doesn’t want to stop her engagement and wants to continue to improve life in her community. So when she heard about all those new technologies such as LED bulb which might help to provide light to 5x more houses than conventional lamps for the same power, she wanted to know more. Then she decided to come back to Barefoot College for those additional skills and also to share problems she encounters in her village with the hope to get answers.
THE SOLAR MAMA TRAINING
Barefoot College with the Solar Mamas has really a positive global footprint in the global challenge, and it goes far beyond bringing electricity to a village. It is also about empowering women and developing sustainable local economy.
March 8th: the Women Day
We spent 2 days at Barefoot College and what a coincidence March 8th was the women day. Could we have a better day to visit Tilonia? I don’t think so!
We witnessed something unique, roughly 100 women from all around the world were together singing, dancing and sharing their stories to the rest of the group. At one point I realized I was the only man in the audience but it wasn’t a problem at all.
Pictures below are worth 1000 words but for sure we’ll remember that day for ever.
Moreover, later on I received a WhatsApp from my sister announcing she gave birth to a beautiful Maëlyne !!!
I was so frustrated that I cannot be close to my little sister for that special day but also so happy: I’m uncle and godfather for the first time!
Our feelings after 2 days
Those 2 days were again an electroshock for us, those stories weren’t our first ones but meeting these women from all around the world made us realized access to electricity is still a global challenge!