Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Training African women as solar engineers

This article is one of a series featuring the finalists for World Challenge 09 - a global competition seeking to identify and reward projects and businesses which bring economic, social and environmental benefits to local communities through grassroots solutions. World Challenge 09 is run by BBC World News and Newsweek, in association with Shell.

WC '09 finalist – Barefoot Solar Engineers of Africa
An Indian energy venture benefiting African communities, The Barefoot Women Solar Engineers of Africa aims to improve the lives of people living away from an electricity supply in rural parts of Africa by giving them clean, renewable and low-cost sources of energy. The ‘barefoot approach’ demonstrates that illiterate women from remote African villages are capable of becoming solar engineers who can fabricate, install, maintain and repair residential solar lighting systems in their villages with six months of training at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, India, where they are tutored by Indian women who also have low levels of literacy.

What are the benefits for the community and environment?
The project reduces the depletion of forests and use of kerosene and diesel, replacing fossil fuel sources with clean, sustainable, low-cost renewable energy. It provides light from a renewable source to households in remote off-grid areas at minimum expense, facilitating income-generating work and enabling children to read and study at night. Community solar energy committees have been established in each village that ensure community ownership of decision making, select women as solar engineer trainees and establish fees to be paid by community members on a monthly basis from savings made by avoiding purchase of fossil fuels. Fees cover a monthly stipend paid to the women solar engineers for carrying out repair and maintenance duties.

How does the project measure its achievements?
Since its initiation in 2005 up until January 2009, 81 women from 11 countries in Africa trained as Barefoot Solar Engineers at the Barefoot College in Tilonia. They have equipped the homes of 2000 families in 50 villages with solar electricity, installing 3000 fixed solar units and 1500 solar lanterns. Another group of 36 additional women from 7 new African countries are currently undertaking similar training at Barefoot College and are expected to return and complete installation of solar units in their villages before the end of 2009.

World Challenge '09 - who will get your vote?
It's up to the public to decide who wins this year's World Challenge competition. Online voting opens on 28 September and runs to 13 November. BBC World News is broadcasting six 30-minute programmes profiling each of the 12 World Challenge 09 finalists throughout October and November.

Find out more
World Challenge website and online voting: www.theworldchallenge.co.uk
Facebook: www.facebook.com/group
Twitter: www.twitter.com/bbc_worldchallenge
Barefoot Women Solar Engineers of Africa: www.barefootcollege.org

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