• Back in 1965, young Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy discovered the harsh realities of rural life in India, and set out on his lifelong mission to fight poverty by helping those in need to help themselves. In 1972 he founded the pioneering Barefoot college in Tilonia, Rajasthan, which has become a model for social and economic development in rural areas worldwide.

    With underlying Ghandian values, the three corner stones are: the undervalued power of women, self-reliance through knowledge and embracing traditional skills in harmony with technology for progress.

    The focus lies in training women, often grandmothers, widows, often illiterate,… to perform engineering tasks traditionally reserved for men, such as… installing solar power, repairing water pumps. At the young age of 40 these women may have already been sidelined in their peer group. Their new skills and enginieer role then shifts their position while simultaneously giving them an independent income. It changes male perception in stubbornly patriarchal societies and counters the fact that ‘those who make it, leave’. Barefoot established that the women are more likely to share the skills and information in their community, as opposed to men who with qualifications would be likely to seek (better) opportunity elsewhere.
  • The first Barefoot issue was water. Apart from the obvious, water as life essential, in many parts of the world women and girls spend most of their waking hours searching and collecting water, making it impossible to attend school – or seek productive work.

    Next came empowerment and energy: ‘Modern energy services are crucial to human well-being and to a country’s economic development; and yet globally over 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity,’ according to the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2014). Most energy poor countries have little water but plenty sunlight.Since 1989 Barefoot College has brought solar electrification to more than 1000 remote villages globally. Life has never been the same again with… hot water, solar cookers, fresh drinking water through solar powered desalination, light at night allowing added income through longer working hours and enabling children and students to study at night.

    Bring the Sun Home is the eye-opening and heartwarming documentary by Chiara Andrich and Giovanni Pellegrini about the ongoing collaboration between Enel Green Power and Barefoot College. Enel Green Power provides training financing as well as solar panels. The installation model includes local communities to contribute a nominal monthly amount per solar panel which ensures communication and supervision. The savings in candles and batteries cover the fee and furthermore finance a monthly maintenance salary for the solar engineers, and allowing money to be set aside for future repair.
  • Commissioned to document the collaboration, the 2012 winners of the Sole Luna Documentary Film Festival portray the journey ‘before and after’: Jeny and Paula, two illiterate grandmothers from Peruvian mountain villages return from India as Andean solar engineers, while Maura and Rosa are just embarking on their six months at Barefoot: leaving families and donkeys in El Salvador, Chile, they board a plane to Delhi, to join a group of women all from other far-flung corners of the world, to train in modern technology.

    With no knowledge of English or common language between them the cultural differences are extreme, the challenges unfathomable. But the will to learn unites. Puppet shows are employed to help overcome (social and language) barriers. 25 years on, over 740 solar engineers having returned to some 64 countries. Every single woman who arrived in Tilonia has delivered solar power back home.

    Barefoot College

    Giovanni Pellegrini

    Chiara Andrich