A Visit to the Barefoot College: Social Work and Research Center, Tilonia

Srishti Sethi
Dec 31, 2015 · 4 min read

Is it “Too Late” to follow your passion? Is there a specific age for learning certain skills? How many occupations do you think really need a bachelor’s degree? Have you ever observed a community in poverty that yearns for learning?

Here I share my experience of a recent visit to a 40-year-old organization, “The Barefoot College”, based in Tilonia, Rajasthan which will leave you spellbound and intrigued by the above questions.

While looking for grassroots-level innovations online a year and a half ago, I found Bunker Roy’s Ted Talk entitled, “Learning from a Barefoot Movement” where he talks about various solutions related to education, health, solar, water which are designed and developed by men and women that have never been to a college. His NGO aims at making the lives of rural communities better by making them self-sufficient and helping them create employment opportunities for themselves. A couple of weeks ago during my trip back home, I boarded the bus from Bikaner along with my mother and sister to visit Tilonia, which is a small village in Rajasthan. This small village station had a traditional platform, too lower than the train floor level because of which my sister was initially hesitant to get down from the train.

The entire “Barefoot Campus” is solar electrified. Women from small villages in India and from all over the world stay on the campus for a span of 6 months to learn the skills to make solar charging circuits. After learning these skills, they go back to their villages where there is still no electricity and deploy these circuits to bring light.

Sharing a bunch of amazing stories from this visit-

Watching this lady (in the picture above) aged 60 years, who has never been to school in her life was a jaw-dropping moment for me! She says, “I prepare around 4–5 breadboard circuits in a day.” Picture below is taken from the same solar training workshop.

The other ladies on campus were learning how to make low-cost and affordable sanitary napkins for village folks. With various healthcare solutions, the community has been able to put a check on the “Infant Mortality Rate” and “Mother Mortality Rate”. The Girl in the picture below went to school only till 8th grade and now, she runs a dental clinic on campus.

Geeta Devi, who studied only till third grade runs the video library on campus. She shared her first experience of typing using a computer with us and we could not stop ourselves from chuckling aloud when she mentioned how she used to recall what comes after E or K on the English keyboard, while going to the restroom at night. Being a grandmother of two, today she is proud and confident about her abilities to overcome challenges and achieve the impossible.

This community also runs night school centers for kids that are busy carrying out the farming activities and livestock grazing during the day. In addition, it organizes children’s parliament that help kids empower the democratic process in rural India. To preserve the integrity of the traditional folklore, Aarti, a young lady who is a village tour guide, runs a community radio with the FM Frequency 90.4 which is accessible to more than 30 villages in a radius of 15 kilometers reaching out to a total population of 50,000 persons. For soundproofing and cooling, the walls of the radio room are covered with egg trays (fantastic idea!). The picture below is from the village radio room.

Ramnivas is the head of the communication team that establishes an on-going dialogue with rural communities through the traditional media of puppetry plays and songs. They emphasize on various social issues through their plays and help villagers to raise a voice against injustice being meted out to them and to fight for their rights. The picture below is from the puppet show where Ramnivas is holding the puppet of “Jhokhim Chacha”, an innovated character supposedly 300 years old man who would handle even the serious issues amicably without hurting anyone.

The whole barefoot community is keen to learn new and amazing things every day for the betterment of their village. Believe me or not, the passionate and inspiring vision of folks here will remind you, “Be the change you wish to see in this world!”. For more pictures, browse here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/srishakatux/sets/72157645286824075/

Originally published at srishakatux.tumblr.com.

Srishti Sethi

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