4 Filipino ‘solar grandmas’ trained in India return

MANILA: Four elderly women belonging to an ethnic group in Luzon have returned from India where they underwent a rigid six month training in “solar engineering” so they could make, install, repair and maintain solar equipment to bring light and other conveniences to their communities.

They are Evelyn Clemente, Sharon Flores, Cita Diaz and Magda Salvador of the Aeta indigenous group from the provinces of Zambales and Tarlac in Luzon who now have also been called “solar lolas (grandmas)” by the other residents.

Although unschooled and thus, unable to read and write but willing to learn even at their “old age,” the four were chosen last September by non-government organisations (NGOs) in the Philippines to undergo training on solar engineering at the Barefoot College in Tilona, Rajasthan state in India.

Barefoot College was founded in 1972 by Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2010. The institution seeks to teach illiterate and unskilled individuals to make and use technology like solar engineering to benefit their communities.

Patricia Bunye, the chief of the NGO Diwata, recalled that in one of the international conferences, her group met Roy and asked him to consider the possibility of sending women from an indigenous tribe in the Philippines to train at his Barefoot College.

“Mr Roy personally selected the four women from the Aeta community who left for India on Sept.16 (2014),” Bunye disclosed.

One of the trainees Lola Evelyn (Clemente) recalled in an interview in Filipino: “At first, we learned how to make solar charge controllers, solar lanterns and solar mobile phone chargers. Then, near the end of our training, we also learned how to make other products like mosquito nets and sanitary napkins.”

Lola Evelyn also admitted they had to persevere because they could not read or write. But more than that, she said, they were separated for the first time from their families — more so, because they were sent to train in a country like India which “seemed like millions of miles away from home.”

She also admitted that initially, they had difficulty communicating with their teachers and other students because of the language barrier.

Lola Evelyn cited as an example their lesson in making solar lanterns and other products, which they successfully achieved, using sign language and colour-coding.

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