A group of seven elderly women have departed their villages in rural Madagascar for India’s Barefoot College. The mission: To train them to become community solar engineers.
The college’s solar engineer program, run in conjunction with WWF, trains only older women who are often grandmothers, to provide solar energy to their villages and others. These so-called “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 to 2 gallons of kerosene per month for their lighting and cooking needs.
Using 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 Lavomanitra 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.
“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.
The group--the first participating specifically in the WWF program--will soon join the more than 300 women already trained.
Only older women --are accepted in the program as they are less likely to move to the city when they return from their training are often keen to share their knowledge with younger people andare considered to have more patience to learn.
WWF is currently mobilizing 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,” Denruyter said.
“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.
Photo © WWF MWIOPO / Mialisoa Randriamampianina (This photo shows the first women to participate under the WWF program)