By: Madeline Taskier, Strategic Partnerships Associate at Women Deliver
At only 12 years old, Kavita* stopped attending school to help her family with housework. By 15, she was married to a man from a village in the Ajmer District of Rajasthan, a western state in India. In this new village, she taught young children during the day and attended classes at night to improve her literacy. It was through this local literacy program, Kavita was approached by leaders of The Barefoot College; a new initiative trying to develop a cohort of female solar engineers.
In a matter of months, Kavita, a semi-literate woman with no formal knowledge of physics, math, or chemistry, became a solar engineer responsible for the creation and repair of solar lanterns and units in 30 villages around Ajmer. To date, she continues to provide light and sustainable cookstoves to hundreds of households that have no electricity and are accustomed to creating dangerous fires in their homes. As a result, Kavita’s monthly income has tripled, and she has gained unparalleled respect from both the community and her family.
Founded in 1972, The Barefoot College is a non-profit organization that provides basic services and sustainable solutions to communities in rural areas. Solar energy is just one of the many areas the organization tackles; education, water, healthcare, rural handicrafts, women’s empowerment, and wasteland development are all part of the curriculum.
Since its inception, over 6,500 women, midwives, widows, shopkeepers, and female farmers have become ‘Barefoot Professionals,’ developing a valuable set of expertise as hand-pump mechanics, artisans, weavers, parabolic solar cooker engineers, midwives, and radio operators. As women like Kavita apply their skills to the challenges in their communities, their status' increase significantly, and a direct correlation between improved health and economic livelihoods can be seen.
In rural Rajasthan, where maternal mortality is as high as 388 deaths per 100,000 live births, the network of ‘barefoot’ midwives is particularly impactful. They perform basic deliveries, post-natal care, immunizations, and newborn healthcare. During family planning camps, the midwives counsel rural couples about family planning, and provide condoms, IUDs, and contraceptives. The midwives are also tasked with training the other ‘Barefoot Professionals’ to spread health messages on sanitation, hygiene, immunization, and family planning as they travel through villages repairing hand pumps or solar lanterns.
This ‘Barefoot Professionals’ model demonstrates that rural development and the empowerment of women can be sustainable and contagious; and that employed and economically productive women are more likely to use healthcare systems, thrive, and support their families and communities.
Check out videos of Female Solar Engineers.
(*Name changed for privacy purposes)
Flickr photo by: Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia