Below is an article I off to the Arcata Eye while I was teaching at Aayojan School of Architecture in Jaipur.I am including you in this blog because I found Barefoot College a powerful lesson in bottom up education and social justice... thought you might enjoy reading it.
This past weekend I took twenty of my ecology students to visit the Barefoot College in the village of Tilonia, about three hours by bus from Jaipur. When I was investigating the possibilities of teaching in India for a year I contacted Barefoot College and offered to volunteer there but was politely informed that they preferred to learn from the bottom up and discouraged the participation of those with advanced degrees. At the time I did not quite get it but now after a visit I have come away with a deep respect for their various programs.
I took my students to visit Tilonia because it is self sufficient in both power and water. After we visited their PV and solar hot water installations, various solar cookers, and their simple but effective rainwater collection system we went on to learn about programs they have been developing over the past twenty years that trains women without formal education to install and maintain small PV collectors that provide energy for individual homes, schools and medical facilities. We visited the training shop and saw individually charged fluorescent lanterns that are providing light for Barefoot's evening schools. These serve both children and adults who must work during the day but can with the help of solar light study for three hours in the evening. Teachers for these schools are villagers who have be trained at Tilonia. The program for teaching adults reminds me of the adult literacy programs developed at Highlander Institute to respectfully teach literacy to African Americans in the South during the civil rights struggle.
The school also has a cooking and dining facility, library, medical facility providing free care, a crafts store selling locally made block print items, a silk screening production producing simply decorated cloth bags urging the elimination of plastic, and very impressive puppet and mask making area with theatre. One of the most successful methods of communicating to villagers has proved to be theatre and puppetry in native to this area. I was entertained impressed and well entertained by the quality of the performance we saw. I think a collaboration between Barefoot College and Del Arte would be enriching to both.
As part of a video we were shown on the various activities of the school, it became clear why my particular skills were declined. Many of the programs that have been most successful here have come from the village people themselves. The college took a look at the costs of foreign volunteers and concluded that they could train eight local teachers who already spoke the language for every one Peace Corps type volunteer. They have presented this finding to the UN. It is funding from the UN and other agencies that is funding the training of villagers from as far away as West Africa as well as remote areas of the Himalaya.
This new understanding is leading me to consider my longstanding passion for living and working in the third world. For now at least, I am contenting myself with teaching ecological principles to largely privileged architecture students. Interestingly some of them are pointing out that the Vedas told them long ago that the world would be destroyed at the end of the Kali cycle (that would be the age in which we are now living) so they are not surprised to learn about global warming. Several of us on the faculty are encouraging them to think ecologically just on principle.