Recently I had the opportunity to
spend two weeks in India and China seeing some of the work The
When you walk onto the Barefoot College campus, there is tremendous energy. All of the grandmothers are working on solar controllers. I was in awe. I started speaking with one from Belize, Florentina, and asked her how she learned to work on the solar panels and how difficult the process is to learn. She said, “When I started learning, I learned by doing. Very slowly. I now know how to make a charge controller, solar lantern and LED lamp.” Wow. That is what, as Bunker calls them, a “Gutsy Grandmother”.
Every year Bunker selects 35
grandmothers from 10 different countries, speaking different languages and trains them to make charge controllers, solar lanterns,
and LED lamps. This skillset is something that takes engineers 5 years to learn
in school, and yet these grandmothers master the skill in a mere 6 months.
Bunker’s perspective on rural development is that “It has to be community managed,
community driven, community controlled, or it won’t be sustainable.” These
women are the matriarch
’s of their families and oftentimes
their villages. The skill to bring “light” to the community empowers the woman
and her family literally and “lights” the future for her fellow villagers
With women speaking languages from Spanish to Hindi to Swahili, how do they all communicate with one another? Florentina said, “By sign language”. When I asked her if she could actually communicate with the other women she had a huge smile on her face and said, “It works!” Amazing. Before we left, the women sang us a beautiful song, “We Shall Overcome”. These women from around the world, speaking more than 10 different languages and leaving their family, have truly overcome. With this training, they become entrepreneurs – independent, self-reliant and self-sustaining.
I asked Bunker, what is one piece of advice you would give to the younger generation? His response, “make mistakes while you’re young. Get out and do something to make a difference.” And Bunker’s legacy you might ask? That “every grandmother is a walking talking Barefoot College.” This approach has the potential to leave enduring positive impact on the women, their families and communities as well as their countries and economies.
Elizabeth Davis works on the Global Sustainability team at The
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