Empowerment for all!—When education meets indigenous women

Empowerment for all!—When education meets indigenous women
Photo Credit To UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

Solar engineer trainer at the Barefoot college in India.

Four women from an Aeta indigenous group in rural Philippines were trained as solar engineers in India. This has changed everyday reality in a small village in the Philippines, were these women bring the light to many lives.


Four women from an Aeta indigenous group in rural Philippines were trained as solar engineers in India. From left to right: Evelyn Clemente, Sharon Flores, Cita Diaz, and Magda Salvador. / Credits: Jeannette Andrade.
Four women from an Aeta indigenous group in rural Philippines were trained as solar engineers in India. From left to right: Evelyn Clemente, Sharon Flores, Cita Diaz, and Magda Salvador. / Credits: Jeannette Andrade.

Evelyn Clemente, Sharon Flores, Cita Diaz, and Magda Salvador–now aptly called the “Solar Lolas”–are back in the country after attending a six-month training course on solar engineering.

During the training course, the Solar Lolas, who can neither read nor write, learned how to fabricate, install, repair, and maintain solar equipment at Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajastha, India.

“At first, we learned how to make solar charge controllers, solar lanterns, and solar mobile phone chargers. Then, near the end of our training period, we also learned how to make other products like mosquito nets and sanitary napkins,” shared Clemente, 50 years old.

As the 12th-largest nation in the world, the Philippines has a population of more than 100 million people spread over 7,000 islands, presenting several electricity infrastructure challenges. Currently, the country is facing growing concerns over resource adequacy in its power sector, as the nation is challenged to add supply quickly enough to keep up with growing demand. A persistent power shortage across the Philippines has led to rolling blackouts that cause businesses, consumers, and wage-workers to suffer, especially in rural areas.

One of the projects run by Barefoot College facilitated a training in solar engineering–a skill that is not only sustainable and empowering but actively useful to their communities. This sends a message of support for the sectors of Philippine society that is most affected by social and economic inequity: Indigenous peoples, rural communities, and women.

Barefoot College was founded in 1972 by Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010. It seeks to teach illiterate and unskilled individuals to make and use technology that can benefit their respective communities.

In 40 years, it has already trained more than three million people from rural and depressed areas in developing countries, enabling them to acquire employment opportunities for the modern world.

Beyond bringing a sustainable source of energy to their communities, their training has also uplifted the way they look at themselves as indigenous people.

“We’ve changed a lot in the past six months. While we never received an education, through the help of Barefoot College we were able to show people that we can learn and be capable of other things.

“We’ve changed a lot in the past six months. While we never received an education, through the help of Barefoot College we were able to show people that we can learn and be capable of other things.

Thanks to the program four Aeta women had spent six months learning to build, maintain, and repair solar-powered lamps as a part of their training for impoverished women.

The women, all grandmothers, trained at school that focuses on building sustainable communities by teaching rural women technical skills in areas traditionally dominated by men. These include dentistry, metalworking, and solar engineering, according the school’s website.

On a broader scale, the four women experience highlights of a growing global movement to empower women–particularly those in developing nations and rural areas–to take on leadership roles and effectively usher in progress.

According to the UN Population Fund “Gender equality is a precondition for advancing development and reducing poverty,” which leads the UN’s initiatives for healthy and productive lives for women and families. “Empowered women contribute to the health and productivity of whole families and communities, and they improve prospects for the next generation.”

And education does not always have to come in the form of college degrees on fancy paper. Barefoot College, where the women learned their solar engineering skills, boasts of having trained more than 6,500 rural women as midwives, hand-pump mechanics, radio operators, and night school teachers –providing them with opportunities for employment and improved statuses in their households and communities.

In the Philippines, newly trained solar cadre of grandmothers intends to put their new expertise to work.


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