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Lighting up rural lives

Jan 20, 2009

Barefoot College is a unique school in western India teaching villagers skills to manage energy systems that suits their needs. The college imparts training to people from across the country and abroad in making solar cookers and panels.

First appearances can be deceptive. Tilonia, a remote village in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, looks like it has not changed in the last 100 years. But spend some time there and you will realize why this tiny village has made its mark on the world map.

The village is home to the Social Work and Research Center and the Barefoot College founder Sanjit Roy also known as Bunker Roy.

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Set up in 1972 the Barefoot College believes that solutions to rural problems lie within the community and trains people who often have had no or very little formal education and teach them skills through the process of learning by doing.

The college does not give out any paper degree or qualification after the course. It has a campus spread over 80,000 square feet that has residences, a guest house, a library, dining room, meeting halls, an open air theatre, an administrative block, a small hospital, pathological laboratory, teacher’s training unit, water testing laboratory, a post office, STD/ISD call booth, a craft shop and development centre, an internet cafe, a puppet workshop, an audio visual unit, a screen printing press, a dormitory for residential trainees and a 700,000 litre rainwater harvesting tank.

“Even an illiterate person can learn to test and assemble solar panels”

The village and the college are electrified through solar panels designed and manufactured by the villagers. The college serves over 125,000 villagers in the district.

“When I went into a village in 1967, I dint know what I was going in for. But I said if I don’t do it now I’ll never do it. People didn’t think I would last. Even I didn’t think I would last,” says Bunker Roy.

Within two years the villages in the block were electrified.  “After coming here I feel it’s not necessary to be educated. Even an illiterate person can learn to test and assemble solar panels,” says Kailash who makes solar panels in Tilonia.

He is a class eight drop out, who initially came to Tilonia from a neighbouring village to learn how to make circuits and electrify his village. He now trains many African women on how to make intricate solar circuits for products and has helped electrify villages around Tilonia.

After being replicated elsewhere in Rajasthan, the Tilonia model has now spread to 10 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Engineers trained by the Barefoot College have solar electrified over 200 communities in India, bringing light to over 80,000 people. And that is not all. The village also trains women to make solar cookers and has 25 to 30 solar cookers made by women.

“I think the World Bank model and the United Nations model has failed. Because it’s top down. You don’t need someone from outside to tell you what you need to do in rural India,” says Roy.

Village Tilonia seems to stand firm in its belief practiced over three decades that an individual’s will to learn is more important than a formal degree.

Source : Mint
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