According to the local coordinator of the College, Madam Marjanne Baker, the initiative is based on Mahatma Gandhi’s central belief in empowering the poorest of the poor.
She said Barefoot College has internalized and implemented this message of Gandhi’s since its inception.
“Since 1989, the College has demystified solar technology and is decentralizing its application by making it available to poor and neglected communities. Demystification of solar technology and decentralization of its application places fabrication, installation, usage, repair and maintenance of sophisticated solar lighting units in the hands of rural, illiterate and semi-literate women,” Madam Baker said.
Under this program, the government of the Republic of India, acting through the Ministry of External Affairs, will train rural Liberian women in the Asian country for six months. Fourteen women between the age of 35 and 50 are expected to benefit from the scheme. They will be certified as Master Trainers upon graduation.
These women, Madam Baker said, will return to Liberia to train other illiterate rural women to produce solar energy in 1,000 villages per year across Liberia.
She said Grand Bassa Community College which is considered as the information technology hub of Liberia will be the implementing partner of the program.
“A portion of the current campus of the college will be used as vocational training center for the Barefoot College, and these master trainers will be assigned there,” the local coordinator said.
The objectives of the initiative are: development of sustainable livelihood activities; identification and training of illiterate and semi-literate women from rural communities; graduation of 20 Liberian Barefoot Solar Engineers each year; solar electrification of 1000 Liberian rural households each year, and the expansion of Grand Bassa Community College to a regional training center.
The Barefoot Initiative began a few years ago in Liberia when eight rural grandmothers departed for India for a six months training as solar engineers.
Again on March 24, 2016, three rural grandmothers departed Liberia to India to be trained. The first batch of eight women was successfully trained and will serve as Pioneer Master Trainers with the additional three who will join them when they return home.
“Learning by doing is the philosophy adopted for the training. The first weeks of the six months of training place emphasis on making trainees feel at home while enabling them familiarize themselves with different terms, tools, components and equipment they have not seen or heard of before. By the end of the training program, the women graduate as Barefoot Solar Engineers. The ‘graduates’ return to their respective villages and electrify the households with solar lighting units. They will then be responsible for assembling, installing, maintaining and repairing the solar home lighting system. Barefoot solar engineers play the key role in sustaining and replicating solar technology in rural communities, change the perception of what is a professional for rural villages and challenge both age and gender stereotypes,” Madam Baker told The Capitol Times in an interview.
So far, the government of India has committed USD 400,000 to this initiative, while the Coca-Cola foundation has committed USD 150,000.