Innovative Project Taps Rural African Women as Solar Engineers

Contact: Gannon Gillespie, Luzon Pahl
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South-South partnership gives marginalized African mothers and grandmothers « life-transforming » training in India

WASHINGTON , DC — The nongovernmental organizations Tostan and Barefoot College are partnering to train rural African women to bring solar electricity to their communities in Senegal, Guinea Bissau,  and Djibouti .  

Beginning this week, twelve women will be traveling from their respective communities in Africa to the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan , India . There they will be trained for six months to be solar electrical engineers, following Barefoot College ’s proven model. The Indian government is providing major financial support for this partnership.

« We are thrilled by this project because it is not bringing in outside experts to solve local problems, » says Tostan Executive Director Molly Melching. « Instead, this project builds on the intelligence and dedication of rural African women by training them to provide an essential resource for their communities. »

At the end of the six month training, the women will be able to install, maintain, and repair solar panels. They will return to their communities, install solar panels in more than 50 households, and become trainers, so that other women can become solar engineers as well.

Melching notes that the projects’ sustainability is crucial. « These mothers and grandmothers are truly dedicated to their families and communities and are likely to remain in their communities for the rest of their lives–making them an immense local resource. By training them we will create a permanent capacity within the community. It will be life-transforming for all those involved. »

Melching notes that there are many benefits to the project: the women will be role models and agents for change in their communities. The solar panels will bring electricity and its many benefits to regions lacking basic infrastructure and services. And the project will be an important new addition to Tostan’s three-year comprehensive development model, which already covers many issues including literacy, education, health, democracy and governance, the empowerment of women and girls, and the promotion of human rights.

Founded in 1971 in India , the Barefoot College strengthens the capacities of illiterate and semi-illiterate women through the acquisition of knowledge and skills. To date, more than 500,000 poor families from rural India have benefited from Barefoot College trainings. In recent years, Barefoot College has developed programs to train African women to install and maintain solar panels in their communities.  
For nearly two decades, Tostan’s three-year, non-formal education program in national languages has empowered communities to lead their own development. Since 1991, Tostan has brought its Community Empowerment Program to over 3,000 communities in Senegal , Guinea , The Gambia, Mauritania , Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, Mali , Somalia , and Djibouti .