‘Illiterate’ women to engineer Barefoot College’s solar energy project in Zanzibar

Zanzibar’s off-grid households could soon benefit from free solar electric systems courtesy of Barefoot College.

Barefoot College of India, which does not ask for any certificate to recruit students or issue certificates, has said it will ensure Zanzibar’s off-grid villages benefit from solar energy to be run by trained illiterate women ‘engineers.

Studies have showed that electricity speeds up development in sectors such as health, education, and economic benefits, and without it, there is poor quantity of services, forcing educated citizens to relocate to urban centres where there is power. The same, social analysts say, could be said of Zanzibar, one of the world’s poorest countries with high levels of infant and maternal mortality (422 per 100,000) live births, malnutrition and both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

A certain procedure is followed where a Village Environment Energy Committee (VEEC) consisting of village elders, both men and women is formed. The college then motivates the communities to choose people such as middle-aged women, widows and single mothers.

Thereafter, the committee consults with the entire village community to identify households that are interested in acquiring eco-friendly solar lighting units. All the families looking to obtain solar lighting are asked to pay an affordable contribution monthly, depending on how much each family spends on kerosene, candles, torch batteries and wood for lighting every month.

The committee has other obligations such as agreeing on the location to build or donate the building and appointing individuals who will be responsible for collecting the monthly household fee.

Bunker Roy, chairperson, India Board Barefoot College said illiterate women from rural areas fit for this project not only because engineers, graduates from Universities overseas can’t accept to remain in villages to connect solar power without good payment but because such women never abandon their homes to shift to urban areas.

In January this year, Barefoot College announced it would offer technical support to establish environmentally sound Community Empowerment Centres in villages across the world to promote girls’ and women’s education, vocational skills, women’s entrepreneurship, literacy and lifelong learning.

This it said would come in line with the goals of the Global Partnership launched by UNESCO in May last year to bridge the gender gap in secondary education and adult literacy.

The Barefoot College, a non-profit established in Tilonia, India in 1972, is world-renowned for pioneering solar electrication in off-grid villages across the globe since 1989.

It has been providing basic services and solutions such as solar energy, water, education, health care, rural handicrafts, people’s action, communication, women’s empowerment and wasteland development.

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