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Barefoot Solar Engineers Empowering Rural India

There is popular axiom that goes something like this, “Real change is built from the bottom up.” As a former framing carpenter, I can’t help but agree (imagine building the roof of a house first!), and that belief is currently being put into practice in India through its barefoot solar engineers.

Many people in India live in rural villages or hamlets that are far removed from the electric grid. Instead, they rely on firewood, dangerous kerosene lamps or diesel for heat and light. Home solar is a safe, clean and renewable alternative. But rather than simply deposit solar power systems in these rural villages, the Orissa Tribal Empowerment & Livelihoods Programme is teaching poor, rural youth and illiterate or semi-literate women to become their own barefoot solar engineers.

Students learn to create, repair and maintain small solar power systems, including solar lanterns. Four students briefly profiled in a Guardian UK article, Talsa Miniaka, Pulka Wadeka, Minakshi Diwan, and Bundei Hidreka, have received a contract to build 3,000 solar lanterns for schools and institutions as a result of their training. Green jobs are already beginning to flourish as barefoot college graduates install solar power systems without any help from paper-certified urban installers or engineers. It is truly an investment in rural India’s green roots, which will soon allow at least 3,000 new students to study safely after dark.

The Orissa Tribal Empowerment & Livelihoods Programme is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and works in collaboration with the Orissa state government. Barefoot College, which trains the barefoot solar engineers, has been at it for 23 years and their record of accomplishments in rural solar training are nothing short of amazing.

Barefoot College’s 80,000-square foot campus is itself completely solar-powered. Over 350 barefoot solar engineers have been trained by the school, among other accomplishments. Hundreds of solar panels have been installed and thousands of solar lanterns have been built by those students, and every single one has been installed, maintained and repaired by barefoot solar engineers without any help from outside professionals.

Links: Inhabitat & Barefoot College

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