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Barefoot success


									Barefoot success

By : Bharat Dogra

This unique initiative harnesses the creativity of ordinary villagers to bring about
remarkable technological development in villages.

While driving across the dusty countryside of Ajmer district in Rajasthan, some
surprises await you at the Tilonia village. Here, you find villagers working diligently
on computers, in a solar energy centre, and in a mini-electronics telephone
exchange! Physically challenged youth work smartly and efficiently in the telephone
exchange, and in a unit that converts 'waste to wealth'. A host of craft items dazzle
you with their beauty and grace. Sprinkler irrigation and carefully laid pipes try to
save every drop to water.

Welcome to the famous Barefoot college of Tilonia, known more formally as the
Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC). While the main centre is housed in two
campuses of this village, several sub-centres exist in Rajasthan and in other parts of

Untapped potential

Baba Amte once said, "The poor and illiterate people of our villages don't need
charity, they need opportunity.” Invaluable, but hidden, dormant skills of villagers
can be tapped if only suitable openings are provided. To provide these opportunities,
what is needed above all is a faith in the ability of villagers who, after all, have the
most intimate knowledge of their farming, housing, livelihoods, and hence have the
most inherent capacity to improve them. They won't come to a village just for a few
hours to study any problem; they live here all the time and so have more time for
observation, site and people-based understanding, and discussions with fellow
villagers. They are more familiar with the history and socio-economic context than
any outsider can possibly be. This is why, in all its wide-ranging programmes, the
SWRC gives maximum emphasis on realizing the potential of local villagers
themselves for solving the various problems of these villagers.

Bunker Roy, the director of SWRC says, "The Barefoot College has proved on the
ground by setting an example that paper-qualified, urban-trained experts and
professionals can easily be replaced by paraprofessionals from the villages who have
never been to college or do not have technical training of any kind. They have learnt
their skill on the job, and upgraded their knowledge through sheer practical
experience that includes trial and error."

Villagers like Bhagwatnandan have fully justified Bunker Roy's faith in their inherent
abilities. Bhagwatnandan was a priest in a temple of a nearby village when he first
came to this campus and felt attracted towards its solar energy unit. Within a few
years, he had not only grasped the basics but even started playing a leadership role
in maintaining the solar energy system that was responsible for lighting up the
campus and running its computer, a pump set and a mini telephone exchange. Youth
like Bhagwatnandan from many parts of India (as well as other countries) have been
trained in Tilonia as Barefoot solar engineers. These include women as well. The
centre also provides solar lanterns to night schools run by the SWRC.
As with solar energy, in other areas also, SWRC gives special care to encourage rural
skills and talent. In the initial stage of its water programme, when SWRC worked to
provide better hand pumps, SWRC emphasized on training local villagers (including
women) as hand pump mistries (mechanics). After three months of training, each of
these new 'hand pump' mistries was made responsible for the maintenance of about
30 hand pumps within five kilometers of his or her village. The experiment was so
successful that the Rajasthan Government decided to extend it to the entire state.

A clear picture

An advantage of such close links with the villagers is the ability to change keeping in
view the real needs of people. SWRC soon learnt that improving maintenance of
hand pumps was not enough in an arid, low-rainfall state like Rajasthan, where
frequent droughts can lower the water-table to such an extent that even well-
maintained hand pumps may not be able to provide any water. So the emphasis
shifted to water harvesting and conservation.

Today, the SWRC campus itself provides a good introduction to its water harvesting
work which extends to numerous villages and schools. Carefully designed pipes bring
the rooftop rain water to an underground storage or tanka. Rainwater flowing in from
nearby hills is guided by trenches and drains to stop awhile - allowing for more
percolation - and then made to flow into an open well. Its overflow is guided to yet
another well. This, as well as drip irrigation and creation of soak pits to conserve
waste water all helps to ensure that SWRC campus has a year-round availability of
water, greenery and chirping birds, even in years when rainfall is below normal.

Another village, Kadampura village in Ajmer district is affected by brackish water to
such an extent that most villagers had become dependent on buying water at the
rate of Rs. 350 per tanker. But this dependence has now reduced significantly due to
a water conservation project implemented by SWRC. This has involved the creation
of one small pond (naadi) and one dug well near this pond. Rain water is conserved
in this pond, with the dug well performing the role of better and speedier re-charge.

According to Ram Karan, co-ordinator of the water-conservation programme of
SWRC, water conservation works help to reduce this brackishness to some extent. As
we travelled through a wide stretch of this dusty countryside, I was impressed by the
anicuts, ponds and other structures that have been created to achieve recharge of
ground water table and reduction in brackishness. In several schools, water supply is
now ensured to students and teachers round the year, thanks to the water
conservation work done by SWRC. And thanks to another water project in Falauda
village, Rameshwari says that now she is able to have a daily bath, while earlier
during the summer, she could not bathe for a stretch of 15 days!

Self governance

One of the most remarkable aspects of water (and most other) projects implemented
by the SWRC is that the entire project funds are transferred to a village committee
formed to implement the project. Barefoot managers' picked up from common
villagers (with special emphasis on women) are provided training for managing such

The same willingness to harness the creativity of villagers can be seen in the multi-
directional efforts of SWRC, be it for education, community health, crafts or women's
empowerment. The success of this approach is best symbolized by Abdul Karim.
When SWRC extended its solar energy work to remote villages of Ladakh, Abdul
Karim first met the Tilonia team while carrying loads for them on his mules. Finding
him so keen to learn about the new technology being taken to his village, SWRC
friends encouraged him to join the training for barefoot solar engineers. He then
came to Tilonia for more advanced training. Soon, he started training other barefoot
engineers and eventually assisted the installation of over a thousand units in Ladakh.

The SWRC has a long catalogue of achievements, but perhaps, its biggest strength is
that it has created many Abdul Karims.

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