SEVEN indigenous mothers who have never attended formal education flew last week to India to train for six months on solar-power engineering in a school run by a non-governmental organization.
The seven women came from tribal communities in Central and Northern Luzon that remain powerless to this day.
Their course will run from September to mid-March 2015.
The women from tribes in Zambales, Tarlac and Abra are attending a short course on solar-power engineering at Barefoot College in Rajasthan, Japhet E. Miano Kariuki, OLLI Consulting Group Inc. senior consultant, told the BusinessMirror during the “Tanging Tanglaw” media launch on September 15 at Quisumbing Torres, One Net Center, Bonifacio Global City. “They will be together with other women from different parts of the world, from as far as Latin America, Africa and Afghanistan,” he said. “There will be a group of 50 women. All of them will be studying to become solar engineers.”The training includes “assembly, maintenance and repair of everything, from the basic fuse to the wiring of the solar unit,” Kariuki said.
Although without formal education since birth, “the education they will receive at the Barefoot College will allow them to become specialists in solar engineering,” he added.
Having no formal education “is a specific requirement by the Barefoot College” to admit scholars, said Patricia Bunye, a lawyer and president of Women in Resource Development Inc. (Diwata). Coming from different cultures and speaking varied languages, “they will be taught by actually doing the fabrication of solar panels, maintenance and repair,” she said.
Upon their return in the Philippines, they would be already capable of providing their communities with electricity by harnessing solar energy, Kariuki said.
They can install, repair and maintain a simple solar-electrification system that can light every home in their communities, he said. Aside from the light, the indigenous peoples can also recharge mobile phones and radio. With solar power, they can also set up a small community center with access to the Internet, Kariuki said.
Since the communities are poor and not capable of raising the money, the program taps different people willing to help source the fund required to get the solar equipment, he added.
Once the solar equipment is installed, the tribal communities will not experience power-rate hikes as households in Metro Manila and other parts of the country do, Kariuki said.
“All the tribal communities need to do is to be able to have sufficient fund that will allow them to replace their batteries after five years,” he said.
The women will get employment for repairing and maintaining the solar equipment, Kariuki added.
They can impart the knowledge and skills they will assimilate at Barefoot College to other members of the tribe when they return home, Bunye said.
The program is in line with the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation, said N. Ramakrishnan, first secretary of the Embassy of India in Manila. “It was started by the government of India in 1964,” he said. “We give the technical know-how and train the people. The entire course is free.”
Developing solar engineers among indigenous women across the globe is “one of the very popular programs at Barefoot College,” which was started in 1972 by Dr. Bunker Roy, Ramakrishnan said.
“The idea is to turn women from poor communities into solar mamas,” he said. “And the principle of the program is to spread it around. The solar engineers, in turn, will teach so many others.” The Barefoot College was established to empower women from poor communities in different parts of the globe, Ramakrishnan said.
About $56,000, or P2.6 million, is required to provide 100 tribal community houses with electricity, Bunye said.
Many women from across the globe, particularly Africa, have been sent to the Barefoot College to study solar engineering and other programs, she said. This is the first time the Philippines sent participants.
Diwata, Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association, and Land Rover Club of the Philippines combined their efforts to help send the seven women to India.
Tanging Tanglaw was launched in the Philippines on May 8. The next batch of indigenous mothers will leave for the Barefoot College in March next year, Bunye said.