What does Women have to do with Solar Power in Sierra Leone? In 2013, the question is as odd as asking the same for men; at least it should be. Nevertheless, the politics of gender was absent in the drive of 12 women from rural communities in Sierra Leone, who traveled to India to acquire training at Barefoot College, and returned as Engineers.
Typically, one might assume that the term originated from them or having something to do with Africa. Interestingly however, the term originated from China. The term “Barefoot” applied to the college, was chosen to reflect the unique dynamics of the program’s vision, which is essentially to empower and equip the “poor, neglected, and marginalized” to acquire the skills, craftsmanship, and expertise of “the Professional”; empowering them to be resourceful to their communities.
The big idea was that there was really no need for a Professional, if a community member could deliver the solution better. This concept has some of its roots in India starting from the 60’s, with several professional disciplines explored, including healthcare and education.
There are several parts of rural Sierra Leone without electricity, as most of the country’s power supply is concentrated in urban areas. Solar energy has been on the rise in countries and towns with little or no electricity and innovation is at its best among those who dare to challenge the status quo and apply sustainable solutions.
During their training in India, these 12 women acquired the skills necessary to power a home with solar electricity. Equipped with their engineering expertise, they returned to Sierra Leone, embarking on a mission to assemble 1,500+ solar units in rural communities.
Imagine having to climb up a ladder, unto a metal roof that may or may not hold firm, and staying focused enough to bring light into the home. Due to the success of these 12 women, the college’s concept has been institutionalized in Sierra Leone, funded by the country’s government, pledging to continue training more people across the country and enabling them to deliver solutions such as this. These Engineers have proved the adage true, that to educate a woman, is to educate a nation; though they have taken it a step further in proving that to teach a woman solar power, is to power up a community.