Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
INDIA'S BAREFOOT COLLEGE
RURAL MOTHERS BECOME SOLAR ENGINEERS

Moceiwasa packs her things into a cardboard box that once stored circuits for charge controllers. Inside the box, there's a roll of black tape, a cellphone, a dozen grape-size pink pills, some white pills the size of sesame seeds, a rag smeared in thermal grease, a wire stripper, and red and black electrical wires that she intends to strip after dinner and again before breakfast, to get ahead for tomorrow's class.

"Dinnertime," someone says.

This is when the Fijians declare, "We Fiji women are sick of this curry and chapati!" (The others seem to agree. The Africans often skip meals, and the South Americans whisper to the goats loitering outside the classroom, "In my country, we would eat you.")

On her way out of the classroom, Moceiwasa turns to me and says, "But we did not come for the food. We came for the solar engineering."

***

The following week, Moceiwasa's family calls to say that one of her daughters just gave birth to her first baby—a girl. On the same day, the solar lights that Moceiwasa and her fellow students recently constructed are packed in cardboard boxes and stacked under a yellow tarp in a truck painted all of the colors that the desert is not.

The truck carries 314 home lighting systems—each containing three lights, a lantern, and a mobile charging station—and four big packages of tools and spare parts. Chand will be the one driving the truck north to the city of Jaipur. From Jaipur, the lights will travel to Mumbai by rail, then byship around Africa to Liberia, then in another truck into the backcountry, where eight solar engineers—with no years of schooling and 45 children between them—will soon do something for their villages that they once could not do.


Natalya Savka's last story for Sierra was "Higher Ground" (November/December 2011).

On December 17, the PBS series Independent Lens will premiere Solar Mamas, Mona Eldaief and Jehene Noujaim's documentary on the Barefoot College. Watch a clip of Solar Mamas.

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