The Barefoot College of India and solar ‘lolas’ among the Aytas

Rural women and so-called indigenous peoples (IP) groups in the Philippines are targeted for training as women of power and position under a project by different non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking even grandmothers that they can turn into solar engineers.

The program is called the Tanging Tanglaw project, which is a joint effort between the Land Rover Club of the Philippines (LRCP), the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA) and Diwata-Women in Resource Development, which aims to empower rural women and communities through skills training and the electrification of their households.

The project is supported by the Embassy of India in Manila.

Barangay Cabatuan

After hours of traveling through rivers of lahar and volcanic rock left behind by the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption, a team composed of representatives from the three organizations visited an Aeta community in Barangay Cabatuan, Botolan, Zambales, to brief the women on the significance of the project and find at least two grandmothers who would be willing to be sent to India for training in solar engineering.

LRCP member Leo Dominguez explained that the Tanging Tanglaw- Solar Lola Project provides for a six-month training on developing, installing, repairing and maintaining solar-lighting equipment in the Barefoot College in India for women coming from rural communities.

The Barefoot College, founded by Sanjit Bunker Roy in Rajasthan, India, teaches illiterate men and women to become skilled workers in their own villages. Roy was one of Time magazine’s 100 most-influential

personalities in 2010.

The women who will train need not worry about their transportation, accommodation and living expenses while in India.

Upon return to their own villages, the grandmothers/solar engineers will have the capacity to introduce electricity to their community. The skills picked up by these women will be utilized for the installation and maintenance of solar electricity in their area.

Eramen Minerals Inc. will provide the funds needed for the equipment and materials going required by Barangay Cabatuan.

“I’m just repaying the kindness and the hospitality these people gave me when I once spent the night here. We will provide about P3 million for the solar panels and other lighting equipment needed to give electricity to 100 households in this barangay,” Eramen Minerals President Enrique Fernandez said.

Each household in the community will be encouraged to make a P200 contribution per month, which will be used for the maintenance of the solar equipment and the implementation of livelihood projects in the area.

“The money collected will be managed and used by the community itself for the repair of the lighting equipment. Any money collected beyond the funds needed for the repairs, they can use for livelihood projects. What Tanging Tanglaw wants is to give this community some dignity,” Annie Dee, PMSEA director and Diwata member, told residents.

Workshops will also be conducted by the solar lolas to impart their skills and knowledge to fellow Aytas.

Residents of the area were initially doubtful of the project, but soon became eager once they realized the benefits the project brings to the community.

An Ayta community with approximately 100 households and 206 family heads (there are about three to four families in every household), Barangay Cabatuan still lacks one basic necessity—electricity. Residents said they spend at least P300 per month for kerosene, which only lasts them three hours a night.

Having electricity available could also help the Aytas become more productive. Annabelle Blanco, a resident of Barangay Cabatuan, said the people in their community depend on farming for their income. They also weave baskets using rattan from time to time, which Blanco said is hard to do at night, with only a kerosene lamp as a source of light.

The organizers of the project left the village with a simple task—to nominate six to 10 grandmothers who would be willing to study in India. These nominees will be interviewed by representatives from LRCP, the PMSEA, Diwata and two of the grandmothers who were part of the first batch to be trained in India.

Dee said the Tanging Tanglaw group is looking for grandmothers with personalities that can influence their community.

The two grandmothers chosen will be sent to India in March, and will come back in the country by September.

The beginning

Tanging Tanglaw was born after Japhet Kaiuki, Dominguez’s consultant at OLLI Consulting Group, met Roy in South Korea.

Roy informed Kariuki he was looking for people in the Philippines to work for his Solar Grandmother project.

Why grandmothers? According to Roy, as quoted by Dominguez, if you send men to become solar engineers, they’ll come back with their certificates and find jobs in the cities.

In addition, lolas in indigenous communities are still young. The Aytas, in particular, marry at 12 years old and have children by 14. By 30 years old, they already become grandmothers.

“The reason we chose lolas is because even though they’re young, they are no longer the primary caregivers. They are the nurturing type, but the ideal ones to take on this role,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez, being connected to LRCP, the PMSEA and Diwata, decided to put the three organizations together to undertake the Solar Lola project under the rubric of Tanging Tanglaw.

“Composed of women professionals with a special interest in the development of IP women, Diwata was a logical choice to lead the partnership,” Dominguez said.

“Around March or April 2014, we organized a cocktail held to introduce Bunker Roy and the Barefoot College to the network of the three partner organizations,” he added.

The Tanging Tanglaw project was then conceived to give indigenous grandmothers a chance for personal transformation and to share this with their community by helping them light up their village and teach the younger generation their skills.

It was in September that same year that the project organizers were able to send their first batch of solar lolas for training in India.

Evelyn Clemente, Sharon Flores, Cita Diaz and Marga Salvador all finished their training and came back to the Philippines and to their respective villages in March 2015.

“There were different participants from about 11 countries. At first, we didn’t know how to communicate. But through our passion in helping our respective communities through solar energy, we have united. We have formed friendships even though we only used hand gestures and signals to communicate,” Flores recalled.

Flores and Diaz, 45 and 51, who both came from Sitio Gala in Subic, Zambales, are just waiting for the shipment of solar panels and lighting equipment from India this month and start the installation of the equipment.

Dominguez said the group expects the solar panels to be installed by March or April this year. He added that each community sponsored by Tanging Tanglaw will be provided with a 40-kw solar panel for each household plus two 40-KW solar panels in their repair shops and community centers.

The original solar lolas were there to visit Barangay Cabatuan and encouraged the IP women in the community to enrich themselves by becoming solar engineers and helping their community by contributing in the electrification of the community. – by Mary Grace Padin

Source: BusinessMirror