Antananarivo, Madagascar: A group of seven elderly women have departed their villages in rural Madagascar for six months training at India's Barefoot College that will equip them as community solar engineers.
The College's Solar Engineer programme, run in conjunction with WWF trains grandmothers to provide solar energy to their villages and others.
These solar systems will be their communities' main energy source for lighting, where today there is currently either no power or only unsustainable energy sources like kerosene, diesel and old or disposable batteries. It is estimated that rural households in Madagascar use approximately 1.5–2 gallons of kerosene per month for their lighting and cooking needs.
Utilising solar power would almost eliminate the community's dependence on diesel and kerosene, according to WWF's Renewable Energy Manager Jean-Philippe Denruyter.
"They will be electrifying 240 households in Iavomanitra village and 150 households in Tsaratànana village on their return. Both these villages are located in protected areas in the forests of Madagascar, where the local communities are the stewards of the land and the link between environment and social issues is very obvious", he said.
Founded in 1972 in Rajasthan, Barefoot College is a voluntary organization working in the fields of education, skill development, health, drinking water, women empowerment and electrification through solar power for the upliftment of rural people.
"This partnership brings to life WWF's vision of achieving universal sustainable energy access through 100% renewable energy. Access to clean, safe, reliable and affordable renewable energy is fundamental for achieving poverty eradication and sustainable development", says Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative under whom the programme of energy access falls.
The group, the first under to participate under the WWF programme, will soon join the more than 300 women already trained as Barefoot Engineers.
Only older women (often grandmothers) are accepted in the programme as they are less likely to go to the city when they return from their training, and are keen to share their knowledge and have the patience to learn.
WWF is currently mobilising funds for the women to equip them with the materials and tools needed to start their work on their return, according to Denruyter.
"As poor communities are gaining access to energy, it is important that they benefit from the best, CO2 emission free technologies that also avoid dependence on volatile energy prices and expensive fossil fuels," said Denruyter.
"Moreover, reliable solar power in rural areas does not only reduce the need for inefficient governmental subsidies for more expensive fossil fuels, but also provides improved livelihoods for poor communities, enhances opportunities for education and development in rural areas, particularly for women," he added.