Development projects the world over run into one crucial point: For a project to live on, it needs to be organic, owned and sustained by those it serves. In 1972, Sanjit “Bunker” Roy founded the Barefoot College, in the village of Tilonia in Rajasthan, India, with just this mission: to provide basic services and solutions in rural communities with the objective of making them self-sufficient. These “barefoot solutions” can be broadly categorized into solar energy, water, education, health care, rural handicrafts, people’s action, communication, women’s empowerment and wasteland development. The Barefoot College education program, for instance, teaches literacy and also skills, encouraging learning-by-doing. (Literacy is only part of it.) Bunker’s organization has also successfully trained grandmothers from Africa and the Himalayan region to be solar engineers so they can bring electricity to their remote villages.
As he says, Barefoot College is “a place of learning and unlearning: where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher.”
The Barefoot College is viewed as a success story because it is shown as an example of what is possible if very poor people are allowed to develop themselves. It is a new concept that has stood the test of time. What the College has effectively demonstrated is how sustainable the combination of traditional knowledge (barefoot) and demystified modern skills can be, when the tools are in the hands of those who are considered ‘very ordinary’ and are written off by urban society.
The ‘Barefoot approach’ may be viewed as a ‘concept’, ‘solution’, ‘revolution’, ‘design’ or an ‘inspiration’ but it is really a simple message that can easily be replicated by the poor and for the poor in neglected and underprivileged communities anywhere the world.