Grandmothers bring solar power to their village

How a village in southeast Togo runs entirely on solar power thanks to four elderly women

 

This story tells of the amazing transformation in the lives of four grandmothers from the village of Agome Seva in southeast Togo in west Africa. The women travelled 8,000km from their homes to Rajasthan in India, where they trained in solar electronics over a six- month period at Barefoot College, a nongovernmental organisation that works to help rural communities become more self-sufficient and sustainable.

Leaving their families in Togo for such a long period of time was difficult, but the goal of becoming “solar grandmothers” with the prospect of bringing solar electricity to their village on their return was irresistible. At the college they were taught through sign language and colour codes how to install, maintain and operate household, solar-powered lighting systems. Their teachers were illiterate Indian grandmothers who are alumni of the college.

On completion of their training, the African solar grandmothers returned to their villages, where they trained others in solar electrification.

Since 2005 more than 140 women from Africa, many of them grandmothers and almost all of them illiterate, have trained at Barefoot College, with help from Indian government funding.

The project aims to improve the lives of the rural poor who live on less than €1 a day in remote villages off the energy grids in what is one of the least developed countries in Africa. It supplies their communities with clean, low-cost household lighting from solar energy.

The provision of artificial light to schools, clinics and places of worship as night falls has improved children’s education as well as enhancing the social lives of villagers.

Barefoot College’s philosophy is that the very poor have every right to control, manage and own the most sophisticated of technologies to improve their lives. Just because they cannot read and write, there is no reason poor women cannot be solar engineers, it argues.

Earlier this year photojournalist Lar Boland travelled to the college in Rajasthan to document the training of four grandmothers – Akouavi, Hotitode, Mialo Tassi and Togoalise – from the village of Agome Seva.

He then went to Togo to photograph the work of the solar grandmothers as they installed solar lighting systems in their village and surrounding areas and taught others how to do the same.

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