The small village of Tilonia, located in Rajasthan is famous for much more than just its beautiful desert landscapes and colorful costumes. Tilonia is world renowned for its illiterate rural ‘Barefoot professionals’ like solar engineers, dentists, doctors, accountants, computer instructors, phone operators, mid wives and health workers. Tilonia also has women who are masons, water drillers, water testers, hand pump mechanics, blacksmiths and carpenters, all thanks to the unique education of the Barefoot College. The village has now gone ahead to become a role model of social and economic development.
Barefoot College is a non governmental organization which works towards providing ‘barefoot solutions’ to the problems of rural India. Based on Gandhiji’s belief that knowledge, skills and wisdom found in villages should be used for its development before getting skills from outside, Barefoot College was born. In its center is the vision of making the villages self-sufficient and sustainable and thus it works on the basic model of empowerment. Barefoot College works in the areas of solar energy, water, education, health care, rural handicrafts, people’s action, communication, women’s empowerment and wasteland development.
One of the most revolutionary programs of the Barefoot College is the training of Women Solar Engineers. From all over the world, especially the least developed countries like Africa, women attend a 6 month training program to become Solar Engineers. All of these trained illiterate grandmothers have gone ahead and solar electrified their villages.
Barefoot College works on the premise of sustainable solutions, dismissing quick fix approaches for development. All barefoot initiatives are planned and implemented by a team of ‘Barefoot professionals’, who are men and women residing in the villages. This gives the villagers a feeling of ownership and makes them proactive partners in development.
The Barefoot College receives its capital funding from a blend of international funding agencies and private foundations, as well as the Government of India.
One of the pioneers of participatory development, Social Work and Research College, more popularly known as Barefoot College, was formed in 1972 by the strong principled Bunker Roy, and many other young minds. It began by attracting young educated urban professionals to come and work with the local communities. In order to sustain the developmental initiatives, they began using a people centric approach, which made the rural people participate in development rather than get intimidated by it.
Since 1972, Barefoot College has been able to reach out to more than 6526 housewives and grandmothers and helped them turn into barefoot professionals. With a little encouragement from Barefoot College, rural India is discovering untapped potential and reaching newer horizons.
Society for Activating, Motivating, and Promoting Development Alternatives (SAMPDA) was registered to spread the barefoot approach all over the world. The 24 member organizations of SAMPDA are spread across 14 states of India and have trained in the Barefoot College. These organizations work on the same ethics, values and objectives as the ‘Barefoot approach’ thus reach out to millions more.
Today, thanks to the Barefoot College, Bhanwar Kanwar has been able to cross the veil and earn a livelihood and Tara, a physically challenged has been able to raise her self confidence and support herself. These are just few of the many lives that have been changed due to Barefoot College.