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School in India Teaches Women to Improve Lives, Towns

The Barefoot College in northern India teaches women skills to bring solar power to their villages and to manage the energy system in rural areas. Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on the philosophy behind the school and its unusual approach to empowering women.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, a most unusual school that changes lives. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from the Barefoot College in northern India. A version of this story aired earlier on the PBS program "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly."

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent:

    The students are mostly women. Some are grandmothers. Hundreds have come here from villages across India and a dozen other countries to learn how to install and maintain solar energy systems in rural areas.

    Even though it's sophisticated coursework, the only prerequisite for admission to the Barefoot College is that there are no prerequisites, not even to speak the language.

    Until we arrived with a translator, these Mauritanian women, who'd been here four months, hadn't spoken to anyone else in their native Arabic. But the college's founder says language is not a barrier to learning.

  • BUNKER ROY, Founder, Barefoot College:

    Our job is to show how it is possible to take an illiterate woman and make her into an engineer in six months and show that she can solar-electrify a village.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Social entrepreneur Bunker Roy founded the Barefoot College in 1972, looking to use traditional knowledge and sustainable technology to help this impoverished desert region.

    It began with basics, like finding safe drinking water, then a few years later, solar.

  • BUNKER ROY:

    In 1986, no one ever thought of solar electrification. It was far too expensive. But today we have 50 kilowatts of panels on our roofs. All our 20, 30 computers, electronic machines, telephone exchange all works off solar.

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