A world of difference

Pensive, but determined.

rural village leaders in plansNot so long ago we were meeting to discuss the needs and possibilities for the rural communities of Burma. Together we were exploring projects to build a village school, to support a medical facility, to expand a crucial water pipeline…and to bring electricity to a village in Mon State.

It’s kind of unreal to think about all these things when you can barely figure out the day-to-day responsibilities for feeding your family.

This particular day was especially wonderful. It went beyond merely sharing dreams – to actually making them happen. The culmination of a year’s worth of planning and final preparations to train Myanmar’s first grandmother solar engineers at Barefoot College.

Mon State Village leaderIn the ‘before’ picture my arms are wrapped around one of the five village leaders who had been crucial in collaborating for the future of her community. This woman is strong and dedicated to her family. Somewhat shy and insecure about her abilities to participate in the program, she was nevertheless filled with wonder and amazement at how she would be able to help her community. To be able to send her grandchildren to school, for them to be able to study with the lights on, for no-one in the Barefoot College 2013village to have to travel miles to get clean drinking water – all these things were in her reach, as she was going to embark on the training program.

Last month the group returned from their 6-month trip to India. From the overwhelmed shock of emotions to the incredible confidence and joy – these pictures are testimony to a journey of empowerment.

According to the Myanmar Times, deputy minister of rural development, U Aung Myint Oo, described the women as “an inspiration”:

“It is unthinkable that these six semi-literate Myanmar women from remote villages travelled abroad to study solar assembly. Their desire to light up their remote villages is highly commendable. It is an inspiration to all people in Myanmar that women of their age can learn something really important for their communities.”

And so, as one life-changing journey ends for the individuals, another rousing journey starts for the sustainable development of their rural communities.

As a side note, Barefoot College founder, Bunker Roy, has since received the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Civil Society at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City. A perfect recognition for all the amazing work that he has initiated around the world!

Barefoot solar engineers

Everyone has a gift.

Bunker Roy says you don’t have to be able to read or write to be able to contribute to the success of your community with your gift. Find the right person for the job, train her (yes, her, because in his words, “men are untrainable”!), and the whole community benefits.

His philosophy has had a tremendous impact on rural villages around the world. By plucking handfuls of illiterate grandmothers out of their communities for six months at a time and training them to be self-sufficient solar engineers, they return to their villages with a new-found confidence and ability to put their hard-earned skills into practice.

“Brenda,” asked Bunker, “Can you help us find grandmothers? In Myanmar?”

With the initial connections made, he and Meagan from Barefoot College set out to meet with potential candidates. We travelled by bull cart for almost three hours before arriving at one of the rural communities, this one in Myanmar’s Mon State, where we were treated to a traditional lunch lovingly prepared by the ladies in the village.

bull cart in Myanmar  ladies that lunch_2022

selected to be solar engineersEach of the six women ultimately chosen for the study scholarship is highly respected in her home village. Leaders at heart, these women know how to manage the affairs of their community. They care deeply about their children, their grandchildren, and the future of their villages.

They will leave their homes and travel further than they ever envisaged. They will get on a plane for the first time in their lives. They will travel to Tilonia,  Rajasthan, in India, where they will learn a new trade.  Tearfully, yet courageously, they accepted the offer to leave their families behind for half a year.

gazing outA couple of years ago I first had the pleasure of meeting this particular dynamic duo, when they travelled by foot nearly all day to take part in a discussion about the future of their village, many miles north of Yangon. At the time we were only scratching the surface of what solar electrification might look like for that community. Now, as we gazed out together over the expanse between our vantage point and their villages in the distance, we were each thinking of how those plans had evolved. The group had spent the day planning their study trip to India and all that this would entail – there was so much to take in! We stood there dreaming of what it would mean for them to return mid September as fully-fledged solar engineers with the ability to install self-sustaining electricity generators in their villages.

It’s an adventure, a challenge and a gift – for everyone involved.