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Oct 21, 2003
Poor and female, but smart

Devi hails from Sikkim. She has been a solar engineer since she was 15. She helped establish solar panels in 4 remote districts of the state and people now use solar energy for heating, water supply and running STD booths! “When I first talked of solar energy, boys would laugh and say I would look ridiculous climbing poles to set up panels. Now my work speaks for itself and the same the boys come for advice. I have even started joining their football games” says Devi with a glint in her eyes.

Who are these women? GoodNewsIndia ran a story in May 2003 on the activities of Bunker Roy and mentioned the Barefoot College run by his organisation. Kausalya, Gulab, Ritma and Devi are proud alumni of this institution.

Barefoot Solar Engineers are now working across eight states in India: Rajasthan, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Uttaranchal, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Sikkim. They set up solar energy systems in areas where electricity supply is either non existent or erratic. Most of them are illiterate but their dexterity with spanners and screw-drivers is impressive. They are all products of the Solar Engineering Programme of the Barefoot College also known as Social Work Research Centre [SWRC], an NGO based in Tilonia. SWRC is supported by the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy, the European Commission and the UNDP. “The focus is on sustainable solar energy,” says Bhagwat Nandan Sewda, the focal person of the BSE programme.

“The project has empowered women” says Maurice Dewulf, Deputy Senior Resident Representative of the UNDP. “It has also proved that solar energy provides a solution not just for cooking but for education, health and income generation” he adds.

The stories of these women show the impact technology can have on simple lives; but more than that, they show how poor Indians --female, at that-- can master frontier technologies and put them to use.
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Click here to read more about the Barefoot College.

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