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03/12 Sunday 09:27AM

the barefoot movement

text . Pauline Chan .

Back in 1972,  Sanjit 'Bunker' Roy, founded the Barefoot College, in the village of Tilonia in Rajasthan, India. The Barefoot College is a rural college for the marginalised, exploited and impoverished rural poor living on less than $1 a day. His mission was to provide basic services and solutions in rural communities with the objective of making them self-sufficient and lift them over the poverty line with dignity and self-respect.

The college provides solutions that can be broadly categorised into solar energy, water, education, health care, rural handicrafts, people's actions, communication, women's empowerment and wasteland development. Its education programme teaches rural 'students' literacy and skills, encouraging learning by doing.

In 1977, the college acquired an 8-acre piece of land in Tilonia to build its new campus.  It was designed by a team of rural Barefoot architects, masons, blacksmiths, farmers and members of women groups who sat and struggled through the basic designing of the campus. Since the rural people have been building their own houses for generations without the help of any urban architects, the college decided to use the knowledge and skills that the locals already have to design and build a campus that was acceptable to its rural population. As no one had any formal training, no architectural drawings were referred to, all plans of the building were drawn and re-drawn on the ground as the the design evolved and changed.

At the Barefoot College, the conventional meaning of the word 'professional' is discarded and redefined as someone who has a combination of competence, confidence and belief. For example, a traditional midwife is a professional. A traditional bonesetter is a professional. Roy explained that there are professionals all around the world and you can find them in any inaccessible village and he thought that the knowledge and skills these rural professionals have, are universal and should be in the mainstream.  Such skills need to be applied.  They need to be shown to the world outside that they are still relevant, even today. Therefore, all Barefoot initiatives whether social, political or economic, are planned and implemented by a network of rural men and women who are known as ‘Barefoot Professionals’.

Graduates of the Barefoot College won't earn a degree or certificate.  One doesn't require a piece of paper to hang on the wall to show.  One is certified by the community one serves. To apply for a 'teaching post' there, you have to be willing to work with your hands and have a dignity of labour.  You have to show that you have skills to offer to the community and provide a service to them.  As Roy says, the Barefoot College is “a place of learning and unlearning: where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher.”

Rural men and women irrespective of age, who are barely literate or not at all, and have no hope of getting even the lowest government job, are being trained to work as day and night school teachers, doctors, midwives, dentists, health workers, balsevikas (pre-school teachers), solar engineers, solar cooker engineers, water drillers, hand pump mechanics, architects, artisans, designers, masons, communicators, water testers, phone operators, blacksmiths, carpenters, computer instructors, accountants and kabaad-se-jugaad* professionals. With a little guidance, encouragement and space to grow and exhibit their talents and abilities, people who have been considered ‘very ordinary’ and written off by society, are doing extraordinary things that defy expectations. The Barefoot College has also successfully trained grandmothers from Africa and the Himalayan region to be solar engineers so they can bring electricity to their remote villages.

The Barefoot College is one of the few places in India where Mahatma Gandhi’s spirit of service and ideas on sustainability are still alive and respected. The College has adopted the Gandhian beliefs into its lifestyle and work ethics, holding it true and relevant universally even in the 21st Century.  Gandhi believed:

that the knowledge, skills and wisdom found in villages should be used for its development before getting skills from outside.
The Barefoot College has applied rural traditional knowledge and skills to build homes for the homeless, collect rain water in rural schools and community where potable water sources are scarce, as well as to spread socio-economic messages at the grassroot level through puppetry. Only technologies that can be understood and controlled by rural community have been introduced to improve the quality of life of the poor.

that sophisticated technology should be used in rural India, but it should be in the hands and in control of the poor communities so that they are not dependent or exploited.
The Barefoot College has demystified technologies and decentralised their uses by transferring the access, control, management and ownership of sophisticated technologies to rural men and women, who can barely read and write.

that there is a difference between literacy and education.
The Barefoot College believes that ‘literacy’ is what one acquires in school, but ‘education’ is what one gains from family, traditions, culture, environment and personal experiences. Both are important for individual growth.

in the equality of women.
The Barefoot College has train village women in areas that have traditionally been dominated by men. Since 1972, more than 6,525 unassuming housewives, mothers & grandmothers, midwives, farmers, daily wage labourers and small shopkeepers, who represent the profile of rural women from poor agricultural communities, have been trained as Barefoot Professionals.

The Barefoot College is viewed as a success story because it is shown as an example of what is possible if very poor people are allowed to develop themselves.

Read more about this simple solution that has change the lives of the rural people on The Barefoot College.

* Kabaad se Jugaad is a traditional way of segregating what we bring into our homes, and reusing, upcycling and recycling every bit of resources.

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