These 4 Aeta grandmoms are now solar engineers

Four Aeta grandmas return as solar engineers

MANILA, Philippines – In September last year, four Aeta grandmothers from Zambales and Tarlac left their communities to become the Philippines’ first batch of trainees at an alternative school in India.

Evelyn Clemente, Sharon Flores, Cita Diaz, and Magda Salvador – now aptly called the “Solar Lolas”– are back in the country after attending a six-month training course on solar engineering.

The ‘Solar Lolas’ – Evelyn Clemente, Sharon Flores, Cita Diaz, and Magda Salvador – returned to the Philippines this month after a six-month training course on solar engineering at the Barefoot College in India.

The ‘Solar Lolas’ – Evelyn Clemente, Sharon Flores, Cita Diaz, and Magda Salvador – returned to the Philippines this month after a six-month training course on solar engineering at the Barefoot College in India.

During the training course, the Solar Lolas, who can neither read nor write, learned how to fabricate, install, repair, and maintain solar equipment at Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajastha, India.

“At first, we learned how to make solar charge controllers, solar lanterns, and solar mobile phone chargers. Then, near the end of our training period, we also learned how to make other products like mosquito nets and sanitary napkins,” shared Clemente, 50, who hails from an Aeta community in Subic, Zambales.

Barefoot College was founded in 1972 by Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010. It seeks to teach illiterate and unskilled individuals to make and use technology that can benefit their respective communities.

In 40 years, it has already trained more than three million people from rural and depressed areas in developing countries, enabling them to acquire employment opportunities for the modern world.

While the Solar Lolas were ecstatic about their learning experience in India, they also told The STAR that it was far from an easy learning process.

“It was difficult for us at the beginning because we were separated from our families in order to learn. But that distance served as our inspiration, and with every solar lantern we made properly, our sacrifice and perseverance was rewarded,” Clemente said.

She added that, initially, they had difficulty understanding their Indian instructors and classmates because of the language barrier. Making the solar lanterns and other products actually had to be taught using sign language and color coding.

“They were very kind and patient in teaching us even though we didn’t have formal schooling. Eventually, when we learned how to understand each other, we became friends with our peers in the college,” Clemente added.

Sending the four Aeta women to Barefoot College is the brainchild of various non-government organizations working with indigenous communities, namely Women in Resource Development Inc. (DIWATA), the Land Rover Club of the Philippines (LRCP), and the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA), with the support of the Embassy of India.

“One of our partners met with Roy at an energy conference a few years back and asked him if Filipinos could study at the Barefoot College. Roy considered it and saw the potential of the Filipinos when he visited last year. We identified two initial communities where the women came from and Roy personally selected the women that left for India last Sept. 16,” DIWATA president Patricia Bunye revealed.

She shared that women, especially grandmothers, are chosen for the training course instead of men because they’re already done with their primary caregiving responsibilities for the family and are sufficiently tied to the community.

“Bunker Roy himself said that in his many years of doing social work, he found out that women are the ideal trainees because they are motivated to go back and share their learning to their communities. Whereas men, their motivation is to leave their villages and find opportunities elsewhere once they’ve been educated,” Bunye said.

Now that they’re back, the Solar Lolas vow to make more solar lanterns with the help of NGOs supporting them. “Learning how to make solar lanterns is a huge help for us because now we can light up our homes and charge our mobile phones even though we don’t have electric service,” Clemente said.

Beyond bringing a sustainable source of energy to their communities, their training has also uplifted the way they look at themselves as indigenous people.

“We’ve changed a lot in the past six months. While we never received an education, through the help of Barefoot College we were able to show people that we can learn and be capable of other things. We are no longer just mothers or grandmothers but solar engineers as well. It makes me proud as a woman and an Aeta to have achieved this and became at par with the rest of the world,” Clemente concludes.

Bunye, who was also moved by the women’s transformation, says, “Given the right environment and opportunities, these women can do very well and be in equal footing with society.”


Source: Philstar