They’ll be departing the Cook Islands next week to attend the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, India.
In Tilonia, the three women will undertake six months of intense training as solar engineers. Skills in solar electrification, water heating, cooking and filtering water via solar powered desalination methods will be on the training programme.
In a statement, the Cook Islands National Council of Women said it was privileged to partner with government and the Barefoot College to identify and send these women as this will be the first time the Cook Islands has participated in this training opportunity.
Finance minister Mark Brown’s interest in pushing the enrolment of this first intake of trainees has been instrumental in supporting CINCWs work programme in climate change and renewable energy.
After the training the women will return to build solar enterprises in their home islands.
According to media information on the Barefoot College website, Tilonia village is 100kms from the capital of the western desert state of Rajasthan, housed in a collection of environmentally friendly dome-shaped buildings.
Around 12 teachers give classes in subjects ranging from the basics of solar engineering, dentistry, mechanics or public health, to radio DJ-ing.
All the pupils are women, some of them illiterate grandmothers from remote villages. Many are unable to read or write, and some come from as far away as Tanzania.
Barefoot was started by social entrepreneur Sanjit “Bunker” Roy in 1972 and has been breaking taboos ever since, educating women who are often second-class citizens discouraged from getting an education.
Barefoot’s founder Roy, named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2010, believes that the key to improving living conditions in poor areas is empowering rural women.
Training older women rather than focusing on men was also a key, he said.
“We deliberately confer no degrees,” he explained. “People are obsessed with the idea of getting degrees, certificates and recognition, but we recognise the hands-on, learning-by-doing process.”
The college model has been copied in 17 states across India and emulated in 15 countries in Africa and several more in Asia and South America.
Cook Islands National Council of Women president Vaine Wichman, thanks government and the officials at Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs and the Office of the Prime Minister (Policy/Pa Enua/Renewable Energy) who have helped organise the women’s attendance at the college.
Thanks also to the DHL official who went out of their way to track the passports to ensure visas for the women to travel arrived in time.