Solar grandmothers from Africa celebrate India-backed empowerment

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 08, 2013 15:30 hrs

New Delhi, March 8 (IANS) 'Solar grandmothers' from as far as Africa and Latin America Friday marked International Women's Day with song and dance as they celebrated the Indian government's unique initiative that has helped light up their lives and homes and of many others.

The women, who are being trained under the Barefoot Solar Engineers Plan of the government's India Technical Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, Friday sang a song dedicated to the Barefoot College at Rajasthan's Tilonia.

The Tilonia college was adopted as a training institute under ITEC in 2008 to support the costs of training illiterate rural grandmothers as solar engineers and empowering them to solar-electrify their villages.

Clapping their hands and swinging to the chorus of "Jhingo, jhingo, jhingo, jhingo la la la", the women were celebrating their empowerment as solar engineers.

Sanjit Bunker Roy, social entrepreneur and educator, who has been associated with training the women, said at the event here that the initiative was "a different format of India's technical assistance abroad".

The Indian government pays for the air fare, the training and stay of the women for six months, he said.

Describing the women as "marvellous grandmothers", Roy said they choose women from the least developed countries under the UN list, like Sudan, Samoa in the Pacific, El Salvador in central America and Tanzania.

"Forty women are trained every six months from different countries.. Over 50 countries have been covered in five years. Over 300 women have been trained in five years and 20,000 houses solar electrified in 160 villages all over world," said Roy.

"These women are the ambassadors of their country.. the change agents of their country. In Tilonia, they are taught other basic skills, besides becoming solar engineers.. learning to make sanitary napkins, chalk, candles, rain water harvesting. In other words, we are making them entrepreneurs," he added.

The criteria for choosing the women, is to locate a village located 10 km from the nearest grid, "she has to be a mother or grandmother, illiterate or semi literate and staying in that village," he added.

Among those gathered Friday were women from Samoa, Zanzibar (Tanzania), Solomon Islands in the Pacific, Guatemala in central America and Vanuatu, also in the Pacific.

"It is an extraordinary collaboration that has taken place. We have managed partnership with UNESCO, UN Women and UNDP," said Roy.

"It is a partnership mode, not a business mode," he said, adding "it is a success story for India, of partnership".

India had received a request from Zanzibar to start a Barefoot Training College there, and the Indian government has sanctioned five such colleges in Senegal, Liberia, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, he said.

"The first model was in Sierra Leone, the women trained there are training other mothers and grandmothers in their country," he said.

More from Sify: