Beaches, music and natural parks. The state of Bahia is a showcase of Brazil’s diversity, and thanks to its innumerable natural gifts, it is a tourist paradise. In contrast, this state also faces important social problems, such as the high illiteracy and poverty rates. However, for some time now, two communities are experiencing positive changes in their living standards. They are the communities of Fazenda Velha and Estrada Vieja do Garimpo.
This story began a few months ago, when these communities chose one of their members to participate in an attractive project. She received airplane tickets and travelled to Rajasthan, to form part of Barefoot College. Six months later, she would return home bringing along a valuable secret: the knowledge to work with the sun’s energy.
Utopia becomes real
The founder of Barefoot College, Bunker Roy, is a 71-year old Indian educator, who was considered in 2010 by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world. His school, founded in 1972, is fed by solar energy and is aimed at illiterate or semi-literate women from small rural communities. With a non-economic focus, the program teaches them to use solar energy and stimulates them to share this knowledge with their original communities.
As a product of the partnership between Enel and Barefoot College, it has been possible to train women of all ages in the installation and maintenance of solar panels in small communities in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, and Brazil. The latest beneficiaries were 77 families from the state of Bahia, from the communities of Fazenda Velha and Estrada Velha do Garimpo, where Enel Green Power operates a wind farm with a capacity of 236.4 MW.
Before the project, some of these families had no access to electric power, while others used diesel generators, fossil and high cost fuels. Now they all have solar panels which supply clean electric power.
Upon completion of her training, our protagonist returned to India and taught the rest of her community how to install solar kits in their homes, manufactured by other women who also studied at Barefoot College. The kits have enough capacity to feed four lights, recharge a cellular phone and one portable solar flashlight.
For Maria Cristina Papetti, responsible for the Sustainability and Shared Practices Division of Enel, this initiative “to achieve this process of learning by doing, exchanging experiences with other women from all over the world, is like a miracle. They return home with new skills, empowered, full of energy and passion ".
Women teaching other women
Women’s education is the key to the partnership between Enel and Barefoot College. The model has been exported, the experience has circulated, the benefits have multiplied and the process of achieving a stable access to clean energy has increased, improving the living standards of thousands of people. Since 2012, the project has involved 36 communities of eight countries in Latin America, supplying electric power to more than 19,000 persons.
The program also benefits the economy of the rural communities. In Brazil, according to the survey carried out in 2014 by the NGO AVSI, the average monthly cost to access this alternative energy is close to R$ 16.00 (sixteen reais). Today, the families covered by the EGP and Barefoot College pay R$ 5.00 (five reais) per month to maintain the solar panels; one third of that figure.
Power is essential towards human development. Currently, 1,400 million people still have no access to electricity and reducing this figure is one of the priorities of the Open Power focus by Enel. This is the aim of the partnership with Barefoot College, an initiative which is also aligned with the goals of the Sustainable Development Agenda of the UN, one of whose objectives for 2030 is to “ensure the access to clean, dependable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.