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Faculty-Student Team Visits NGO in India

Interdisciplinary Institute

Field Dispatch

A faculty-student team traveled to in India over spring break to become familiar with the work of Barefoot College, an International Non-Governmental Organization. Faculty-student members on the team included Dr. Simona Sharoni, Dr. Ellen Fitzpatrick, Dr. Elaine Ward, Tiana Lawrence, and Eden MacDougall.

Although Barefoot College has multiple initiatives focusing on education, health, water and more, the focus of their trip was on solar electrification, especially the initiative known as the Solar Mamas.

Barefoot College launched the Solar Mamas project in 1983, as a transnational initiative, designed to blend women’s empowerment with solar energy. Since then, 1,300 women from 91 countries completed the six-month intensive training to become solar engineers and catalysts for change in their village, upon their return. The project was even featured in the “Solar Mamas” documentary that premiered on PBS.

During the team’s second day on the Barefoot campus, they had the opportunity to interact with several key people involved in the Solar Mamas project, from solar engineers to curriculum designers to workshop facilitators and the Solar Mamas themselves. According to members of the team, they came to understand and appreciate Barefoot founders’ belief that solar energy not only provides electricity and reduces carbon emissions, but can also be a catalyst to create employment, boost income, and provide self-reliant solutions for village communities.

The team felt fortunate to attend the graduation ceremony of the Solar Mamas enrolled in the twenty-first cohort of the project. The group consisted of 60 women from 13 countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Additionally, Barefoot College has trained hundreds of Indian Solar Mama.

The faculty-student team included three faculty members and two students from Merrimack College. Sharoni is a Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Director of the Interdisciplinary Institute, and Fitzpatrick is the Interdisciplinary Institute visiting scholar and an agricultural economist with over 25 years in field research, program evaluation, and university teaching/ mentoring in Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, Latin America, Turkey, and Africa. The final faculty member in attendance, Ward, teaches in the Higher Education master’s program in the School of Education and Social Policy. The students on the trip, Lawrence and MacDougall, major in Women’s and Gender Studies and International Studies, respectively.

The faculty-student team will be talking about their experiences in India on April 3 from 4:00-5:30 p.m. in Cascia Hall.