day 728 | November 25, 2015 | Barefoot College

"Live simply, so that others may simply live." Gandhi

It was the TED Talk that captured my heart and imagination, an inspiration on how I would like to grow as a human being, and how I'd like to raise my girls. Wasn't until closer to the date of our Northern India trip when I realized that Barefoot College in Tilonia, a Gandhi-inspired community, sat right between Pushkar and Jaipur. Was not about to miss the opportunity to see it first-hand, and so thankful that Nandlal, Barefoot College's visitor coordinator welcomed us so readily despite our surprise visit.

From the Barefoot experience, personally, these are the ideas that resonate:

(1) Girls and women as powerful change-makers. It's mentioned that women reliably bring money back to their families. On average, for every dollar invested on a girl, 80 cents returns to their families, while boys only bring back 40 cents. Even without validating these numbers, this rings true from personal experience.

In most rural communities, boys get priority access to education. Girls, on the other hand, are expected to herd cattle, be caregivers to their younger siblings, or do household chores in the daytime. Because of this, Barefoot College run night schools, allowing girls to study, 4 hours a night, 6 days a week. Beyond academic learning, I appreciate the approach they've taken to education, allowing children to discuss culturally relevant issues like child marriages, domestic violence, and women's health, and enabling them to participate in a real democracy. Students have a parliamentary election of 6 - 14 year olds, are empowered, and held accountable for their decisions. Many-a-time, we exclude kids from discussing relevant issues and making decisions because we deem them too young. But there is much to be gained in engaging them early, foster an ongoing conversation.

(2) More wise words from Gandhi: "If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning." I love the idea of self-reliant learning -- that there are no barriers to learning, even the most sophisticated of concepts, as long as the heart is willing. Even spoken word is not a barrier -- body language, sign language, essential terms, hands-on practice, illustrated manuals, puppetry. Where there is a will, there is a way. 

(3) To truly help, we need to put the control for people's development in their own hands. There are many good-hearted NGOs who go in and try to dictate what is best for the communities, and they bring what they think will be helpful, without truly understanding and connecting with local community needs. Rather than pushing 'strange' unsustainable solutions, it is instead encouraged to re-value indigenous knowledge, and partner for solutions that the local communities can run for the long-term.

(4) A step above this, would be to pursue innovation that augment humanity. Most of technology developed these days are for the affluent. Where are the tools that will enable people to work their way out of poverty? I was struggling to synthesize what is a "meaningful life" to Roo and Red, seeking to inspire them not just to work for work's sake, but to aspire for something beautiful, something I'm personally struggling with myself. Instead of asking them what they'd like to be when they grow up, the true question is then, what problem would they happily offer their lives to solving? A life mission.

The essentials of the human condition are pretty much the same anywhere around the globe. About half of the world live on less than $2.50 a day, and don't have access to clean drinking water. There are wars going on, and many millions displaced, living half-lives in indefinite pause, or worse yet, constant fear. What solutions can we offer?

(5) Last but not the least, I admire the ethos of living the life of the poor, grounded on simplicity, a clear idea of sufficiency, the humility to work with one's hands, and respecting the dignity of labor. There is so much excess, and with the staggering imbalance of wealth, we expect so much when we give and do so little. I would like the girls not just to appreciate what we have, but also to understand and respect the work that happens to enable us to live our mostly sheltered lives.

"Extraordinary guts. That kind of risk is where systemic change is born... Growth demands a temporary surrender of security." - Megan Fallone

Other articles on Barefoot College:
Vicinity Map, marking where BC has a presence
Solar-powered community, Panels up on the rooftop
International Mommas from Latin America, Africa and Asia
"Women are incredible agents of change. The problem is they have been either barred from participating in development as they didn't have knowledge, as they are blocked from access to literacy, education, money. Once they get rid of these barriers, it all opens up." Megan Fallone
A roomful of International Solar Mommas, in-training
Visual guides
Sita, proudly standing by her Parabolic Solar Cooker
Shehnaz, Solar Cooker Engineer
With Nandlal and Ramniwas

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