Categories: Energy

In a quiet classroom forty empty chairs await their students. A blackboard, dusty with chalk, takes up one wall; directly opposite a world map flutters in the dry desert breeze from an open window. Sunlight streams in from the doorframe, as the students begin to take their places around a long trestle table.

This is not your everyday classroom. And these are not your everyday students.

Solar Engineering Class of 2015 / 11 countries, 36 women.

This is The Barefoot College, an NGO which aims to empower rural communities to become sustainable and self-sufficient by creating Rural Solar Engineers.


To return home and illuminate their own villages!

1.6 Billion people in the world do not have access to light at night. (Photojournalist: Lar Bolands)

Without renewable energy the poorest populations must plunder limited resources to provide a single flame of light for their families. Many nights, they are left in the dark without the ability to capitalize on hours after sunset. This means that because most developing regions work during the day, adults and children alike lose out on opportunities at night for education, recreation or development.

Village Chief has given his blessings to these four Togolese Mamas who will return in 6 months to solar electrify the community.(Photojournalist: Lar Bolands)

Most of the women in class concentrate on their work for the day (today they’re soldering circuit boards) but on my visit Lucy, from Cameroon, smiles and leans forward to shake my hand. Sitting at the head of the table nearby is Maria, a Solar Mama from Bolivia. Her story is one of pure inspiration – she travelled alone for 2000 miles on her first trip away from her family of ten children and two grandchildren. Now she shares a dorm with two Ecuadorian Mamas, Patriciaand Estella, who look up to her like a mother.“We could not do this withouther,” they say.

Patricia, Maria & Estella (Left to Right)

The notion that grandmothers, with no prior engineering skills (and very limited formal education), can electrify whole villages seems, at first, untenable. But after five minutes in this diverse classroom I can’t imagine a more simple and compelling idea. Barefoot College gives these women the opportunity to escape the dogmas of their previous societies and live more freely. Allowing them the space and time to find their true potential.

Anyone, regardless of gender, caste or age, can become empowered to learn new skills.

– Gordhan, Solar Trainer 


“Learning by doing. Doing by learning”

– The Barefoot College Way

From South Sudan to Myanmar, Togo to Panama, from 68 different countries around the world “Solar Mamas” (as they are affectionately known) have been chosen by their communities, given their first passport and leave their homes and families behind for the first time in their lives to begin a transformative journey in rural Rajasthan, India, where the Barefoot College Campus is based.

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