Barefoot College

LOCATION: Tilonia, India

SUMMARY: “Barefoot College is a non-governmental organization that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than forty years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable. These ‘Barefoot solutions’ can be broadly categorized into the delivery of Solar Electrification, Clean Water, Education, Livelihood Development, and Activism. With a geographic focus on the Least Developed Countries, we believe strongly in empowering women as agents of sustainable change.”

The keystones of the Barefoot College approach are self-reliant learning, mentoring and hands-on training for empowerment and community-based self sufficiency which has shown to be replicable across diverse geographic and cultural areas. One of the strongest features of the program is that it does not depend on language or culture to carry out the trainings. The program effectively demonstrates a decentralized approach in every sense of the word, requiring certification to come from within the communities themselves. By training and empowering insider experts—grandmothers who are traditionally the cornerstone of the community—rather than relying on outside experts, they are also instilling pride in the center of the community along with the skill sets.

PROBLEM SPACE:1.6 billion people live without light and clean water. This critical need for lighting is addressed by the Barefoot Solar Program. Of the 875 million illiterate people in the world, 80% are women. That stops women from becoming the agents of change they are proven to be. That must change.

SOLUTION:The solution: was to establish the first and only rural College in India built by the poor and exclusively for the poor. Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts live in the lifestyle and work style of the College. Living conditions are simple so that the poor feel comfortable. Everyone sits, eats and works on the floor. Everyone takes a living wage instead of a market wage. Working relationship depends totally on mutual trust, tolerance, patience, compassion, and generosity.It has been shown that if the learning and re-learning environment is relaxed, nonstructured and informal, rural poor are capable of wonders. By understanding, respecting, and applying traditional skills needed to provide basic needs (drinking water, lighting, education, health, employment, housing) semiliterate and very poor rural men and women have shown they can not only improve their quality of life, but also free themselves from hunger, misery and want. No written contract is signed with people who want to work in the College. They are free to stay as long as they like. Over 70% have stayed for over 10 years. They are free to go when they want. The working relationship depends heavily on mutual trust and faith. This makes all the 300 workers of the College volunteers.

Barefoot College is the place:
–where the Learner is the Teacher and the Teacher is the Learner
–where only those are welcome who do not have a paper degree and spoilt by the formal educational system which prevents them from taking risks, making mistakes and learning from experience. –where only those very poor people are accepted for training who have poor educational qualification and who are not eligible where no degrees, certificates or diplomas are given, because that is not the singular major reason why mass migration takes place from rural to urban.

The solution is to listen to solutions the rural poor have to offer with tolerance and humility. Barefoot College has learnt how to be ecologically responsible from the rural poor: how to live, work and act sustainably. For the last 20 years the College has demonstrated how to live without using fossil fuels (diesel and kerosene) for lighting and cooking, how to practice the age old technology of people collecting rain water without over exploiting ground water for drinking water and sanitation. At the College sustainable ideas and practical knowledge of the poor has been put into practice. Respect the community has for water (rainwater harvesting), the sun (solar electrification) and the need to preserve traditional desert culture (architects) is really a simple message easily replicated in poor neglected and backward communities all over the world. The Barefoot College has shown what is possible if the very poor are allowed to develop and organize themselves. Very ordinary people written off by society because they are labeled as poor, primitive, backward and impoverished are doing extraordinary things that defy description.

Since 1972, several thousand poor young unemployed and unemployable rural youth, both men and women have been trained as barefoot professionals. The rural youth selected have to be impoverished, illiterate, semiliterate or barely literate and who barely have one meal a day. The idea is that once trained (as slowly as they can absorb) they will never leave their village or community. Since 1990, Buckminster Fuller’s design of the Geodesic Dome has been fabricated by semi-literate village blacksmiths to be used as schools, libraries, pathology laboratories, meeting places, a Children’s Parliament House, residential houses in the deserts replacing wood, electronic workshops benefiting thousands of rural poor across India. Thus, barefoot educators, doctors, night school teachers, solar engineers, water drillers, architects, designers, midwives, masons, communicators, hand pump mechanics, computer programmers and accountants by the thousands have passed through the College and are productive, responsible members of rural society. By staying in their villages the Barefoot College has managed to reverse migration.

SOLAR: Barefoot College is the ONLY fully solar electrified College based in a village in India. 40KWs of solar panels and five battery banks of 136 deep cycle batteries were installed by barefoot solar engineers from 1989 onwards. The solar components (inverters, charge controllers, battery boxes, stands) were all fabricated in the College itself. The Barefoot College has solar electrified 807 villages, installed 7,377 solar units in individual houses benefiting 93,000 people. 317 barefoot solar engineers (128 semi-literate rural women) have installed 23 solar power plants of 2.5KWs each; women have fabricated 17 parabolic solar cookers; 97 solar water heaters have been fabricated and installed in the Himalayas. The College has trained rural communities to establish 2 Micro-Hydel power stations of 100KWs each; established 23 Rural Electronics Workshops.

RAINWATER HARVESTING: 48 million litres of rainwater collected in 1150 rooftop rainwater harvesting tanks constructed by barefoot architects in nearly 1,000 rural schools in 13 states benefiting 25,000 children who no longer have to walk during school hours to fetch water.

GENERATING EMPLOYMENT:More than 400 artisans including 300 women use traditional skills producing hand crafted items generating annual sales of $250,000.

INFORMAL EDUCATION: More than 7000 children attend 250 night schools across India in Bihar, Assam, Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan. More than 50,000 children have, since 1975, passed through these night schools that involve over 500 barefoot teachers. A Children’s Parliamentin all states monitor the night schools with 100 elected MPs of which 65 are girls.

TRADITIONAL COMMUNICATION: The rural illiterate have no access to newspapers or TV. They have been reached using traditional media like glove puppets and street theatre to convey vital social messages. It has enabled the poor and destitute to fight for their rights and raise their voice against exploitation, discrimination and injustice. Over two million people living in villages have seen the puppet shows and street theatres all over India.

DESCRIPTION OF HOW ONE WILL FINANCE THE SOLUTION AND MAKE IT ECONOMICALLY VIABLE: In 2005, the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India approved $450,000 for the coverage of 179 schools in 15 Indian States across the country to be implemented through 38 organizations and be completed by September 2005. An additional $1.2 million to cover 300 remote rural schools was approved between October 2005 and March 2006.In February 2005, the Skoll Foundation approved a three year grant of $615,000 to promote rooftop rainwater harvesting in 30 schools in some of the poorest countries of the world according to the UNDP HDI. The countries identified are Sierre Leone, Senegal, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Bhutan.The Asian Development Bank has funded 25 heritage villages in Bhutan.16 villages in eight countries have been solar electrified with support from the Skoll Foundation (US), Fondation Ensemble (France), and Stiftung Het Groene Woudt (Netherlands).With NCA, Afghanistan as a major partner since 2005, 21 villages and 900 houses have been solar electrified by 27 Barefoot Solar Engineers (7 women have been trained as solar engineers). Communities in Afghanistan, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Mali, Sierre Leone and The Gambia will also be able to construct rooftop rainwater harvesting systems and toilets for girls in 20 schools with support from Art Venture (Singapore), Foundation Ensemble (France) and the Skoll Foundation (US).

Barefoot College is replicating its barefoot approach globally with support from international sponsors and community partnerships in Africa, Asia and Latin America. After receiving training in the College for six months, ten semi-literate Afghans (seven men and three women) have solar electrified five villages in five provinces. The first ever villages to be fully solar electrified without any technical expertise from outside, are technically and financially self sufficient. 34 rural semi literate barefoot water and solar engineers (seven women) from five of the most backwards regions of Ethiopia have been trained for six months in the Barefoot College. They solar electrified their 19 villages in May 2006. This year (2006-2007), more than 40 semi-literate, middle-aged women have been trained in Tilonia to become barefoot solar engineers. These engineers will solar electrify over 50 rural communities in six countries. Barefoot water engineers from Safer Future will also be providing technical assistance for construction of rooftop rainwater harvesting systems in schools in Mali, Mauritania and The Gambia. This will be the first SOUTH-SOUTH Cooperation between poor communities within Africa. Long term consequences of the barefoot approach: reversed migration. increased confidence and competence of the very poor to provide sophisticated technology oriented professional services to their own community reduced dependency on urban skills demonstrating a working example of Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of self reliance in India’s villages.