Grandmas’ tale lights up lives the world over

Award-winning documentary screened in Abu Dhabi highlights the exploits of rural women who doubled up as solar engineers to electrify 450,000 homes in 49 countries

Abu Dhabi: A group of 80 women, many of them grandmothers with little or no previous technical grounding, helped electrify hundreds of thousands of homes around the globe using solar energy.

This pioneering bunch, known as ‘barefoot solar engineers’, have lit up about 450,000 homes in 49 countries around the world thus far.

An award-winning film — ‘No Problem — Six Months with the Barefoot Grandmamas’ — documenting the grandmothers’ story of hope and courage was screened at the Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday evening.

The documentary is about the rural solar electrification project run by the Barefoot College in the village of Tilonia in the Indian state of Rajasthan, where numerous illiterate rural women from all over the world, particularly Africa and remote villages of Asia and Latin America, are being trained as solar engineers.

Women from countries as far as Tanzania, Bhutan, Uganda, Sudan and Liberia participated in the exceptionally empowering programme at the Barefoot College.

The documentary highlights the efforts of this group of women who have been lighting hundreds of thousands of homes around the world.

Yasmin Kidwai, the filmmaker behind the documentary, who was present at the screening, said the women with little or no technical knowhow whatsoever go on to become ‘solar engineers’ thanks to their “indomitable determination and on-ground training”.

This story of hope, courage, enduring friendship and belief, which has been selected for 15 film festivals across the world. It taught women learning by doing and they struggled to learn the impossible, she said.

The women — in the 35 to 50 age group — spent six months at the college and were trained to light up homes with solar energy. They learnt and returned to their home countries where they visited people’s homes and fixed solar panels and provided them electricity, said Kidwai, an award-winning Delhi-based documentary filmmaker.

The film has won accolades at several film festivals that includes ‘Ousmane Sembene Films For Development Award’, the highest award presented at the Zanzibar International Festival and best documentary film award of Sandalia Sustainability Film Festival in 2018.

Despite the language barriers and limited facilities in Tilonia village of Rajasthan, these grandmothers who barely had any technical skills returned as solar engineers to their homes, full of confidence to light up others’ lives, Kidwai said.

The documentary follows the story of the 2011 batch that graduated from the college in Tilonia that is funded by an Indian government scheme, which was launched in 2010.

Kidwai’s new documentary ‘Filmistan — The Euphoric State of Bollywood’ is about the secular nature of Bollywood and is ready for a worldwide release soon.

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