In MAHILA, the filmmaker steps between different worlds, going from West to East, from urban to rural surroundings. Her encounters with the experiences and observations of rural Indian women provoke reflection on the process of empowerment. In an artistic ethnography we see and hear how they are using education, technology and politics to redefine their destinies. As we trace the filmmaker’s memories we are taken into questions about story-telling. How are the women fighting to get their stories heard? Can the filmmaker tell other women’s stories?
A film about grassroots activism, eco-technology and networks of women.
Mahila/Women – 26:00
A film about the Barefoot Solar Engineers.
Summer 2006, a few months after I met Mr. Vasu Srinivasan at the Luminous Green Symposium organised by foAM, I decided to develop a project on the Women Engineers of the Barefoot College and the Women of Tilonia.
Diving into the matter, I quickly made up that a documentary movie had to become the central issue in the project. My interest for the women Solar Engineers and the Mahila Samiti women of Tilonia comes out of a personal involvement that links art, women empowerment, ecology, technology and social engagement.
Introduced to the Barefoot College project, I was struck by certain similarities between my own relatively protected work environment and the specificities of the trainings/workshops in Rajasthan.
Okno, a Brussels-based artist-run organisation for media, art and technology, focuses on social art and community-based technological research projects. To be more specific: current projects research the implementation of sustainable energies as solar/photovoltaic and wind energy in community-based city- and meshnetworks and public space art projects.
Belgian and international artists work together in a DIY-approach and during the decentralised workshops the sharing of knowledge is an important factor to come to valuable results.
The solar engineer training at Barefoot College, India has a similar structure: productivity results from collective work; the learning environment is open and decentralised and knowledge is passed on in a bottom-up and hands-on way.
From start on, the decision to step into the solar project is community-based. The village selects and delegates its future women engineers for a 6 months training, and every village family engages itself to pay its share in the remuneration of the engineers to set up and maintain the village solar system. January 2008 I went a first time to Barefoot College to meet and interview the solar engineers. There I discovered that the solar workshops are only a very small part in a much bigger story concerning the empowerment of the women in question.
#01_on women empowerment and creative networks
An artistic research project driven by grassroots activism, eco-technology and networks of women to build integrated and sustainable relationships between people, their environment and technology.
My interest in the women Solar Engineers and the Mahila Samiti groups for women’s empowerment in Rajasthan comes out of a personal involvement that links art, women empowerment, ecology, technology and social engagement.
When I learned about the Barefoot College project, I was struck by certain similarities between two practices that seem worlds apart at first sight: my own artistic work environment and the practical trainings/workshops in Rajasthan.
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Politics of Change (PoC) is an artistic researchproject that documents the contribution of small communities to the construction of a more balanced society. POC is a collective work where artists, activists and ecologists, economists, educators and anthropologists want to initiate collaborative dialogues to research ideas and solutions which support decentralised structures, diversity and community development.
The project involves not only public discussion, but an extensive mapping and documentation of these proposals in an art context. Drawing on a wide range of artistic and theoretical fields, the aim is to imagine new and sustainable relationships between humans, their environments and technologies.
As artists, filmmakers, theorists and activists we have to enrich the public debate around sustainable living, the environment and eco-technology. We have to think about the kind of future in which
we want to live and work. What social and economic systems can we envisage beyond the regular ones? Is there anything that we can learn from existing (non-western) experiments?
to download the POC magazine, click its picture
The case study of the Barefoot College project is a good example to open the discussion.
The project builds upon Gandhi’s philosophy: ‘be yourself the change you want to see in the world’.
The highlight of the project is the solar department, where women from Asia, Africa and South America
are trained to become a solar engineer. During the 6 months training the women learn to work with appropriate technology to serve the needs and daily necessities of their communities.
Nazma Nigam. Solar Lighting Engineer.
streaming video — 01:20
From the villagers I heard about a project providing work to illiterate women. When I came here I was scared because I never went to school. But people were I had to leave home early to come to work and traveling was difficult. My in-laws were not liking it as I gave not enough time to my children. After a while they agreed with the fact that I could stay on the campus with my children.
I started at Barefoot as a gardener but I needed more money to raise my kids. In the solar section they were looking for more people to help them with the village solar lighting systems I applied for that department and I started the training.
I followed the complete solar training. They explained me the colors of the circuit and after a while I understood the concept. Continue reading
Magan Kawar. Solar Lighting Engineer.
streaming video — 01:40
I belong to the Rajput-caste. The Rajput kings and queens were very rich, but there are also poor Rajputs.
My husband got to know about Barefoot College through a village politician and he came here to have a look. He really liked the College approach and he decided to stay. I followed my husband to Barefoot.
I got a lot of reactions from my village people that I wanted to get out of the purdah-system. Rajput woman are supposed to stay their whole life behind the purdah-curtain and are not allowed to see or meet other people. But I decided to go for the training anyway.
My family and my in-laws were afraid I wouldn’t be able to combine work, taking care of the kids and the household. But I convinced them that I would do everything to handle work and family and to manage all my work. And with the support of my husband I started my job at the college. Continue reading
Technology is a valuable input for social transformation, but the most important force is human agency and creativity: the microlevel initiatives and everyday activities of real human beings.
In following interviews the Barefoot Solar Engineers talk about their visions, methods and sources of inspiration to shape their future and bring social transformation.
For full interviews and background information, check the links on the playlist.
Scroll down for complete selection: Rami, Mangi, Leela, Magan, Sita, Shamma, Sargu and Nazma.
Check the links on the playlist for more info on the videos.
Scroll down for complete selection.
Interview with Bunker Roy, co-founder of the Barefoot College (by Rocketboom).
Interview with Vandana Shiva, eco-feminist and founder of the Navdanya organisation.
Barefoot Solar Engineers in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (by Neeta Lal).
Scroll down for complete selection.
Sita Bai is one of the Barefoot SolarCooker Engineers. Together with 3 other women she runs the solar-cooker section of the College.
Some years ago she decided to start a 6 months training as solar panel engineer, and she continued her education with a focus on solar cookers.
Today the women are responsible for the construction of the large parabolic dishes, covered with regular pieces of mirror.
They tailor them precisely according to the blueprints of a German Engineer, Wolfgang Scheffler, with whom they still collaborate and improve the reflectors and machinery when needed.
They organise their smithy, weld and solder the mechanical parts for the cookers out of recycled bicycle parts. Their apparatus are sold to organisations in India who use them in community kitchens.
Scheffler’s Community Solar Cooker
Scheffler’s Solar Cooker – pdf