MANILA, Philippines-Six months flitted like a dream for four Aeta grandmothers who traveled 4,800 kilometers to undergo free training in India and are now officially solar engineers.
Wearing shades and cheerfully recalling their experience at Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India, the four were a far cry from the group of introverts who left in September last year.
The four-Evelyn Clemente, 49; Sharon Flores, 40; Cita Diaz, 40; and Magda Salvador, 42-flew home on Monday from India via a Cathay Pacific flight.
“Time went by so quickly it feels like a dream,” Flores told the Inquirer in Filipino, recalling the kindness of strangers that gave her and her companions the opportunity to literally light up their communities.
“We know only a little English. We know how to write only our names. But it was enough,” she smiled.
A solar engineer sets up systems, including photovoltaic (“photon,” or light, and “voltage”) panels, to capture the sun’s heat and light and convert these into electrical or thermal energy for practical use. This is known as “green engineering.”
The use of solar power effectively reduces the consumption of traditional fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas and coal. A college degree is usually required to become a solar engineer.
Flores said she and her companions did not feel lost although it was their first trip ever far away from their home provinces of Zambales and Tarlac.
“People were kind wherever we went,” she said.
According to Salvador, the group learned solar electrification with 32 other classmates from 11 countries.
“We hardly understood each other, speaking different languages. But somehow, we all got along well,” Salvador said.
She said the drive to learn something useful for their communities was the one factor that everyone shared.
For her part, Clemente admitted that she and her companions found the lessons difficult at first but soon got the hang of it.
“They (teachers) used color-coding to teach us so it soon became easier for us to learn,” she said, pointing out that the method effectively broke the language barrier.
The four women have not had any formal education until their trip to Barefoot College with the help of the Indian government and the nongovernment organizations Diwata Women in Resource Development Inc., Land Rover Club-Philippines and the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association.
Since 1989, Barefoot College has been focused on using solar energy to address needs in rural and remote villages worldwide.
Barefoot College, formerly the Social Works and Research Center, is an organization committed to helping the poor, neglected and marginalized sectors around the globe.
‘Change the world’
According to Indian Embassy First Secretary N. Ramakrishnan, the primary concept of Barefoot College is to “train a grandmother and change the world.”
He told the Inquirer that Barefoot College took in semiliterate, middle-aged women from far-flung areas around the world “to train them and then carry forward” what they learned.
Ramakrishnan said the Indian government sponsored the women’s education through the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperative Program of the Ministry of External Affairs.
Diwata Women president and lawyer Patricia Bunye said two of the new solar engineers already had the capability to help light up 100 households using solar energy.
Clemente and Flores live in a resettlement area in Sitio (settlement) Gala, Aningway Sacatihan, Subic, Zambales, with some 130 families. Diaz and Salvador are residents of Bamban town in Tarlac.
Bunye said her group was reaching out to possible financiers to set up solar electrification in two communities. Each community would need $56,000, or P2.5 million, she said.
Lighting up lives
Ramakrishnan said the four women’s education in solar engineering was more than symbolic.
“In lighting up their lives, they would be lighting up their villages,” Ramakrishnan said.
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