Empowering women from Chile to Rajasthan

Posted on 16 March 2018

The Council was delighted to welcome four amazing Women Solar Engineers from Chile, during an afternoon of inspirational conversation on 15 March.

Susanna Garcia, Isabel Caripan, Silvia Huarachi and Sunilda Flores, also known as ‘Solar Mamas’, recently completed a gruelling and rewarding 6 months solar engineering training organised by the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, India.  On their way back to Chile, they flew in to London to tell us about their remarkable experience.

Barefoot College, founded by Roy Bunker, and supported by the Council, is a non-governmental organisation which provides services and solutions to problems in rural communities, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable. Through the Solar Mama initiative women are equipped with the essential skills and knowledge to bring light and change back to their communities.

Ms Caripan who works in tourism commented: “I really valued the training and the focus on the practical aspects. By the end of our time in India we could operate and fix each component of the solar panels. This is an invaluable skill we can take back with us and bring to our homes and children and pass on to others in our communities.”

Access to reliable and sustainable energy is a pillar of prosperity and development for every economy. In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), 5% of the population does not have access to grid electricity. Most people live in rural areas and depend on fire wood, kerosene, diesel, candles, and other basic forms of energy which are not considered safe, reliable or sustainable, and are usually more expensive than grid electricity.

Ms Huarachi, an event promoter, working in agriculture, said the real objective of doing the training was to illuminate rural villages and communities, by getting continued support from the Chilean government and other relevant organisations, to develop various agricultural projects.

Ms Garcia, who also works in agriculture, said: “My time in India has given me the opportunity to learn about renewable energy and new cultures. I am grateful to the dedicated teachers at Barefoot College and the support of the Council. This is a truly empowering experience for women.”

Christoph Frei, Secretary General of the Council, commented: “We were very pleased to have the Solar Mamas in the office. The Solar Mama programme is purely a women’s effort. The work of Solar Mamas in Latin America, Africa, and Asia demonstrates a strong commitment to access to energy work. The Council will continue to follow and support the work of the Barefoot College.”

Following their graduation, the Solar Mamas along with their fellow cohorts originating from 14 countries, were invited by the International Solar Alliance (ISA); a treaty-based international and intergovernmental coalition of solar resource-rich countries, to open their Founding Ceremony at the house of Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister. During the ceremony, in the presence of French President, Emanuel Macron, a main figurehead of ISA, their inspirational and emotional testimonials showcased them as paragons of innovative and sustainable practices.

During their brief time in London the Solar Mamas were also treated to a special reception hosted by the Ambassador of the Republic of Chile to the United Kingdom, Mr Rolando Drago Rodríguez.

Nearly 15 years since Barefoot College started training solar mamas at their campus in Tilonia, they have never stopped innovating, through the help of CSR funders and various supporters. Their college recently improved its 6-month solar training curriculum to include weekly workshops in women’s health, financial literacy, climate change awareness, nutrition and livelihood programs that cater to the developmental needs of rural women and their communities.