Do you listen to the Ted Radio Hour? On Sunday I listened to “Can Grandmothers Change the World?” This compelling piece blended the themes of leadership, environmental activism and women’s empowerment. I found myself wanting to learn more about how the Barefoot College is transforming women’ lives and their communities in rural Africa and Afghanistan.
“In 1972, Sanjit “Bunker” Roy founded the Barefoot College, in Rajasthan, India, with one mission: to provide basic services in rural communities to make them self-sufficient. These “barefoot solutions” include solar energy, water, education, health care, women’s empowerment and wasteland development. ” In this story, Bunker talks about helping grandmothers from Africa and the Himalayan region to be solar engineers so they can bring electricity to their remote villages.
Bunker basically encourages women to take 6 months away from their home villages to learn how to become solar engineers. The women spend time in literacy training, communication skill development, and solar technology. Many of these women are grandmothers who started families at a very young age and now have decided to step up and be leaders for their communities; most of them are in their 30’s. He writes that it is the “only engineering program where people with Masters and PhDs are not welcome.” He has created a certificate program that empowers women to make change in their villages. It is not easy, but he gives these women the tools to navigate complex political, social and cultural demands. He empowers them to be disruptive leaders.
At the end of the program Bunker quotes Mahatma Ghandi…”First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.” The graduates of the Barefoot College bump against cultural tensions with men in their communities, people who deny their abilities, and loneliness while away from home for 6 months. Yet, they create a disruption in their communities that results in solar energy for everyone. They bring light to homes. They bring light to spirits.
This week world leaders are gathering in Paris for the World Climate Summit. As I think about climate change, I believe Bunker and Ghandi have given us a pathway forward that could engage more women from around the world to be the disruptive leaders that our environment needs.
Do you know of other programs that are engaging women from rural areas to help with climate change? I’d love to hear what you think about the Bunker School. Contact me with your ideas.
Together, we can “win”.
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Image credit: Rod Roddington