Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Barefoot College a place of learning and unlearning

The Barefoot College is a place of learning and unlearning. It's a place where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher. It's a place where NO degrees and certificates are given because in development there are no experts-only resource persons. It's a place where people are encouraged to make mistakes so that they can learn humility, curiosity, the courage to take risks, to innovate, to improvise and to constantly experiment. It's a place where all are treated as equals and there is no hierarchy.

So long as the process leads to the good and welfare of all; so long as problems of discrimination, injustice, exploitation and inequalities are addresssed directly or indirectly; so long as the poor, the deprived and the dispossessed feel its a place they can talk, be heard with dignity and respect, be trained and be given the tools and the skills to improve their own lives the immediate relevance of the Barefoot College to the global poor will always be there.

For the last 34 years the long term mission of the Barefoot College has been to work with the marginalized, the exploited and the impoverished rural poor living on less than $ 1/day and lift them with dignity and self respect over the poverty line. The dream was to establish the first and only rural College in India built by the poor and exclusively for the poor.

The mission was to show the importance and relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s message in the 20th Century. His ideas and beliefs have been practiced in the Barefoot College for over 34 years. His central beliefs that knowledge, skills and wisdom found in the villages should be used for their own development: that technology should be demystified and decentralized to the hands of the rural poor: that there is a difference between Literacy and education: that marginalized women should be given equal opportunities to learn; and that we should not waste are reflected in the activities of the College.

The activities cover the basic minimum needs required for the poorest of the poor to improve their quality of life: drinking water (rain water harvesting), lighting (solar electrification), health (preventive-tackling malaria, TB, Aids, water borne diseases), housing (geodesic domes), education (night schools), employment (marketing of traditional handicrafts), the empowerment of women (barefoot solar and water mechanics) and protecting their environment.

The history of the Barefoot College covers 38 years. It started with 4 urban based professionals coming to a small village called Tilonia doing a ground water survey of 100 villages (1972 to 1977). Five years later the priorities changed to identifying the skills available and applying them for the development of poor communities. The barefoot professionals were recruited from the villages as teachers, solar and water engineers, health workers, drillers, communicators and this resulted in a great deal of conflict because paper qualified engineers, teachers and doctors were objecting to the barefoot workers providing a professional service.

From 1980 to 1990 the consolidation of the impact of the College across India took place when it was basically agreed and indeed effectively shown that conflict of ideas and approaches led to fundamental change in the mindset of the poor. For once they were offered choices of depending on skills from outside or developing the capacity from within.

The important milestones in the history of the College could be identified as follows

1975- Installation of hand pumps and training of barefoot hand pump mechanics
1986 -Construction of the first roof top rain water harvesting structures in schools. The same year the Barefoot College was fully solar electrified by barefoot solar engineers.

1990- Training of barefoot rural men and women solar engineers, architects, women mechanics repairing hand pumps.

The Barefoot College has learnt from the rural poor how to live, work and act sustainable. For the last 20 years the College has demonstrated how to live without using fossil fuels (diesel and kerosene) for lighting and cooking: how to practice the age old technology of the people of collecting rain water without over exploiting ground water for drinking water and sanitation. It is a College only for the poor, built by the poor for the poor. It is a College where the sustainable ideas and the practical knowledge of the poor has been put into practice .The respect the community has for water (rainwater harvesting) the sun (solar electrification) and the need to preserve the traditional desert culture (architects) is really a simple message easily replicated in poor neglected and backward communities all over the world.

The Barefoot College has shown what is possible if the very poor are allowed to develop and organize them. Very ordinary people written off by society because they are labeled as poor. Primitive, backward and impoverished are doing extraordinary things that defy description. Over the last 35 years several thousand poor young unemployed and unemployable rural youth, both men and women have been trained as barefoot professionals. The rural youth selected by the community have to be impoverished. Illiterate, semiliterate or barely literate and who barely have one meal a day. The idea is once they are trained (as slowly as they can absorb) they will never leave their village or community because no government or private agency will ever employ them.

Thus barefoot educators-doctors, night school teachers, solar engineers, water drillers, architects, designers, midwives masons, communicators, hand pump mechanics, computer programmers and accountants by the thousands have passed through the College and are productive, responsible members of rural society.

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Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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