Sunday February 17, 2019

This college built on Gandhi’s ideas offers no degree but produces quality solar engineers

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By Harshmeet Singh

Meet 37 year old Naina Devi, a resident of Rajasthan’s small dusty village Tilonia, she has trained over 50 women solar engineers from 11 LDCs (Least Developed Countries) till now. She doesn’t speak the same language as her students and most of them are much elder to her. With no formal education to boast of, Naina Devi handles integrated circuits, capacitors and soldering machine with as much ease as she handles chapattis at home!

And Naina Devi is not alone. Situated at a distance of about 50 km from Ajmer railway station, Tilonia is home to trained women dentists, women artisans, women electricians, night schools, children parliament, a water harvesting system, a community FM station and much more. Tilonia is unique is more ways than one, and yet, it remains far away from the public eye and publicity that it so dearly deserves. Tilonia represents the true spirit of India; the spirit that says that the solutions to our rural problems lie within us. This unprecedented change in Tilonia has been made possible by Barefoot College.

Barefoot college

Established in 1972 by Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, Barefoot College is a non-governmental organization that has been working for the women of Least Developed Countries by training them in the fields of solar electrification, education, livelihood development, water conservation and many more. The college, established in Tilonia, Rajasthan, runs on the principles and ethics of Mahatma Gandhi.

Covering over 8 acres of land in Tilonia, the Barefoot college identifies women from the most neglected sections of the society and trains them in dentistry, solar engineering, crafts, mechanics and even RJing! The pupils, most of them mothers and grandmothers, come from some of the most under developed and far flung nations in the world. Many of them, in their 50s and 60s, had never seen electricity in their life before coming to Tilonia.

This unique college doesn’t offer any degree to its students. The reason, according to them, is that the students leave their villages after getting a degree and start looking for lavish jobs. The entire objective of the project is for the students to stay in their village and pass on the benefits to the fellow villagers. The ‘learning by doing’ process followed by the college ensures that the students get a hang on things and are prepared to face all the possible issues within their craft.

The entire program is free for the students, thanks for the funding raised from a number of donors such as the Indian Government and some international agencies. All the local women working in different departments such as solar engineering, mechanical workshops, crafts and dentistry are paid the same wages which is equal to the minimum wage amount set by the law in India. Believe it or not, the entire college runs on solar power! Additionally, close to 100 million litres of fresh water has been harvested in the college since 1991!

Further support after training

Once the participants complete their training and move back to their home towns, the Barefoot College invests $50,000 in their villages for the installation of solar equipment. Each household in the village is expected to contribute towards the maintenance of solar installations with an equal amount as their earlier expenditure on kerosene and wax candles. The solar engineer is responsible for all the repairing and fixing of the solar installations and is paid a monthly salary from the amount contributed by the households in the village. The solar electrification program of Barefoot College has brought lights to more than 45,000 households from some of the some neglected places in the world.

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Life at Tilonia

Tilonia is currently home to a number of night schools where working children can attend classes after their day’s work. The teachers, again, are the local villagers.

Strengthening the democratic values in the society has always been one of the major objectives of Barefoot College. This has led to the establishment of a Student Parliament inside Tilonia. The Parliament elects its own council of ministers, which is headed by the Prime Minister. The council undertakes surprise inspections at all the schools in the village and brings to the notice of College authorities, any anomalies that they find. Such instances of inculcating accountability in the kids are seldom seen in the country.

The college also has a fully operational Radio Station which is operated by one of the trained women. Used to propagate important messages and news, this Radio Station is one of the most significant landmarks in the village. But entertainment in Tilonia doesn’t end here! The College also houses a dedicated Puppet room which is armed by professional puppeteers who organize frequent shows in the village to keep the villagers updated about the current social issues.

There is so much more to Tilonia than what meets the eye. A model village, an inspiration, a true realization of Mahatma Gandhi’s dreams, women empowerment, and welfare of the world are just some of the many descriptions that fit aptly on Barefoot College.

  • This is a program that I deeply admire and applaud. I come from a third world country in the Pacific called Papua New Guinea where corruption has ruined my country.

    Such a program like this has a huge potential for benefiting the people of this country. If there is any way you can possibly assist through a similar program in my country, please contact me by email.

  • Nice to know about Tilona village.
    If one need more information, how one can get it?

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  • This is a program that I deeply admire and applaud. I come from a third world country in the Pacific called Papua New Guinea where corruption has ruined my country.

    Such a program like this has a huge potential for benefiting the people of this country. If there is any way you can possibly assist through a similar program in my country, please contact me by email.

  • Nice to know about Tilona village.
    If one need more information, how one can get it?

Next Story

Rajasthan’s Leading Properties Go Green To Follow The Sustainable Route

Once a warrior fort, the management of the heritage property also engages the villagers in tasks like organic farming.

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Famous Forts in India
Amer fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan (Pic Credits : Elene Machaidze)

From plastic straws to copper vessels, handmade lamps and bangles, Rajasthan’s leading hospitality players here are establishing new trends by engaging local artisans to showcase traditional artistry to guests and serving them locally-inspired cuisine amid green surroundings.

“We have initiated the use of paper-made straws; there is no use of plastic bags anywhere in the hotel property and the local-inspired food is being served to guests to ensure the locals have a regular source of income,” Binny Sebastian, General Manager, Bishangarh’s Alila Fort heritage hotel, some 50 km from here, told IANS.

Once a warrior fort, the management of the heritage property also engages the villagers in tasks like organic farming.

organic farming
Once a warrior fort, the management of the heritage property also engages the villagers in tasks like organic farming.

“Our association with the locals is quite strong. Working with them, we take our guests to the local temple. They also visit the artisans’ houses and sip tea there while watching them make pottery and weave carpet. In this way, we ensure that locals get a decent livelihood,” Sebastian added.

“We have started getting regular income since this property came up a year back. We have been showing our art to the guests here which gives us satisfaction as well as an income,” said Nizamuddin, a bangle maker.

Ashok S. Rathore, General Manager of the Rambagh Palace, said: “We have curtailed the use of plastic. There are no plastic straws being used on the property. We serve in glass bottles instead of plastic water bottles.”

This property is also adopting sustainable routes to ensure that the locals get decent income opportunities for their sustenance.

Famous forts in India
Chittorgarh Fort, Rajasthan (Wikimedia Commons)

“Our interiors are reminiscent of handmade interiors. Our suites are adorned with Thikri art, a rare gold-dipped miniature artwork of Rajasthan. But skilled artists are disappearing and it comes with a high cost of production,” said Rathore.

Also Read: Stop “Stereotyping” Northeast, States Hold Strong Cultural Harmony

Fairmont Jaipur has incorporated the fine craftsmanship and beauty of the local cultural heritage and artisans of Jaipur. The ceilings are hand-painted by local artisans with complex motifs.

“We associate with the local artisans to showcase their talent at the hotel in the form of the evening entertainment, the welcome experience and celebrate the local heritage of Rajasthan,” said Srijan Vadhera, General Manager, Fairmont Jaipur. (IANS)