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WWF partners with India’s Barefoot College to support solar power for the poor

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solar energyGland, Switzerland – WWF has concluded an MOU with the Barefoot College of India to train rural women as solar engineers.

And today, the first group of seven women depart their rural villages in Madagascar for Rajasthan, India to begin a 6-month training course that will see them qualify to build, install and maintain solar systems in their communities, making this the 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.

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 under whom the programme of energy access falls.

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, says WWF’s Renewable Energy Manager Jean-Philippe Denruyter.

“It is estimated that rural households in Madagascar use approximately 1.5–2 gallons of kerosene per month for their lighting and cooking needs. Utilising solar power would almost eliminate the community’s dependence on diesel and kerosene,” he says.  “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.”

The Barefoot College’s Solar Engineer programme trains grandmothers to provide solar energy to their and other villages.  According to Voahirana Randriambola, Program Coordinator of WWF Footprint programme in Madagascar, the training is based on mime, colours and gestures, cutting through language and literacy barriers. “These are the first women to participate under the WWF programme, and we are proud that they are from Madagascar,” says Randriambola.

They will soon join the more than 300 women already trained as Barefoot Engineers.  Only older women (often grandmothers) are accepted in the programme as they are less likely to go to the city when they return from their training, and are keen to share their knowledge and have the patience to learn.

WWF is currently mobilising funds for the women to equip them with the materials and tools needed to start their work on their return, says Denruyter.  “They will be electrifying 240 households in Iavomanitra 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, says Denruyter.

Ultimately the goal is to use the example of the two villages and seven grandmothers across the country as a strategic axis for the improvement of living conditions of communities living near priority conservation areas, and the development of sustainable energy access in Madagascar.

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