The four "Solar Grannies" from Karambi, Rwanda returned in October 2012 from The Barefoot College in Tilonia, a small village in the desert regions of Rajasthan, North India after 6 months of training on the installation of solar power in their village.
The Barefoot College has, for more than 35 years, worked to improve the lives of the rural poor by addressing basic needs for water, electricity, housing, health, education and income.
Claudine Uwimana, 48, Odette Mukarumongi, 50, Cecile Nyiramubandwa, 48 and Dative Mukantabana,47 all residents of Karambi village in the Nyamata sector of Rwanda were chosen by their villagers to attend The Barefoot College for a period of six months to learn how to fabricate, install and maintain a solar powered household lighting system for their village.
Before leaving Claudine, the group leader, said that she was excited. “The fact that I have never travelled beyond Kigali, notwithstanding that, I am boarding a plane to India! I will beat all odds including the language barrier, to gain enough skills to have solar energy in my village,” she said.
For them all it has been quite a learning experience and took a while to get used to the life in Tilonia. Since Tilonia is in Northern India the climate is not too different from Rwanda and is not too hot due to its high altitude. Unfortunately, all the ladies suffered in some way health wise in the early weeks but did recover and eventually became accustomed to the new lifestyle, supporting each other, and working hard at their studies. The main challenges were in the food and language. The food is generally vegetarian with a combination of rice and pumpkin soup, and since there was no common spoken language the communication was in a form of sign language which has been developed over the years at Tilonia with many and various nationalities who have studied on "Solar Grannies" projects.
The fortunate thing was that, being in a group from Rwanda, they were able to support each other; both in day to day living and studying. They were given mobile phones when they first arrived although they had very little credit for calling but they managed to phone their families at the beginning to let everyone know they were OK and check how their families were. Afterwards they received Skype phone calls from Mike and Colette Hughes' family in Rwanda (Mike is Chairman of RUGO), being able to converse in their native language Kinyarwanda, to share their experiences of India and to catch up on what was happening back home.
They wore tunics and trousers and learned to climb ladders and milk cows (culturally taboo for women in Rwanda). They worked very hard in their studies and regarded it as source of pride to prove that the confidence in them to succeed was well founded. They spent their time building solar lanterns and assembling the various components to build the solar systems. For them it has been a huge learning experience and they are now fully capable to light up the Village of Karambi and maintain it. In the end they adapted so well that those meeting them at Kigali airport on their return did not immediately recognize them in their t-shirts and baseball caps!
Whilst they were there they also did manage to visit some other places in India including the Taj Mahal.
They were very excited and energized by their visit and on their return at the end of September 2012 had a great welcome in Karambi Village from both friends and family.When the equipment arrived the ladies undertook a Pilot exercise installing the equipment in two houses whilst the workshop needed for them to complete the electrification of the whole village and its subsequent maintenance was being built.
Since returning from India and the pilot exercise the full electrification of the village has been completed.
We would like to thank the Barefoot College and the Government of India for their great support and making the ladies feel at home, and in having them involved in the many cultural activities and also the ladies themselves for singing to the others!
If you want to see more of how life is at The Barefoot College and how the "Solar Grannies" are trained then view the CNN report on the "The Barefoot Grandmothers Electrifying Rural Communities"