You can see it on the faces of people whose resourcefulness is celebrated by India’s Barefoot College. They are competent, and they know it.
So many development agencies miss that. Even with the best of intentions, they can fall into the trap of thinking the people they have come to assist are somehow lesser beings.
Bunker Roy, the man who started Barefoot College, has a very different point of view, something he learned when he exchanged his three-piece suits for the garb of a manual labourer. The man who taught him how to drill wells invited him to visit his village. Bunker Roy went reluctantly and stayed 35 years.
In the second video below he explains, “Well, I found living and working with these very, very poor and ordinary people an exhilarating experience because they had such knowledge and skills. Incredible knowledge and skills which has just not been recognized by development planners and so-called experts in the development field. And I felt that, being exposed to that sort of knowledge and skill, I would like to start a college built by the poor, for the poor only.”
Thanks to Barefoot College, marginalized rural poor are given the opportunity to show what they can do, and what they can do is extraordinary. They become doctors, teachers, mechanics, communicators, accountants, and entrepreneurs.
Through peer-to-peer learning, they pass on traditional skills and acquire modern technologies. They become water engineers capable of bringing clean water sources to their communities. They train to be solar engineers and transform remote villages.
The record of this grassroots college is inspiring. On the Barefoot College’s Rural Women Social Entrepreneurs page we meet Gulab Bai (first video), a solar engineer from Tilonia, and Lalita Sharma, a water mapping engineer. Wander over to Tilonia: Artisans of India, and we see the exquisite work created by artisans in the home village of Barefoot College.
Honouring people for who they are, for the skills and knowledge they possess. Such a simple concept and yet so powerful.
This gives me hope.