Uneducated middle-aged women from poor communities get trained to build solar panels and batteries to create power and jobs in their communities.
[NOTE: Due to copyrights, the full film will be removed on April 26.]
By Mona Eldaief
Before we set out to make the documentary Solar Mamas, we looked online to see what videos had already been made about Barefoot College. We found many success stories about these women returning home to solar power their villages and change their communities in countries all over the world.
However, we found one of the most essential elements in telling their stories to a global audience was missing. The narratives of change were not coming from the women themselves. We wanted to experience their lives, from their point of view.
When we started filming in India, there were 28 women from 7 different countries who spoke 9 different languages all sitting together in a classroom. We had arrived in Babylon. Our challenge was then how to identify a woman with a strong enough narrative.
At first, six months of technical training in a classroom seemed like a very slow process, but one month into the training the drama began. An exception had been made to Barefoot College’s founder Bunker Roy’s ideology of training only grandmothers, and her name was Rafea.
Rafea is a 32-year-old mother of four daughters. She comes from a Bedouin village in the northeastern desert of Jordan, close to the border of Iraq where most girls are forbidden to go to school past the age of 10. Men in the village usually have up to twenty children and can’t provide for their families. Needless to say, women going out to seek employment opportunities is not an option.
When one of the two grandmothers who had been recruited from Jordan backed out at the last minute, Rafea instantly volunteered to replace her.
Although she had never left the country before, she jumped on the opportunity without an ounce of fear or hesitation, packed her bags and left for India the next morning.
When she got into the classroom in India she immediately absorbed the training. It was like second nature to her. After just six weeks at Barefoot College, her husband called her to battle. He threatened that if she did not return home immediately, he would divorce her, steal her kids and she would never see them again. He had woken up to the fact that his wife could potentially be self-reliant and empowered and a leader in the village which threatened his manhood, to say the least.
But it was too late; Rafea’s eyes had been opened. One month at Barefoot College had made her realize that she was capable of anything she put her mind to. If she could finish the training, it wouldn’t just change her life, or the life of her kids, but the lives of everyone around her.
For the next two months back home in Jordan, she battled the patriarchal rules of her culture and the beliefs of other Bedouin women who had resigned themselves to their hopelessness.
Her relentless conviction took her back to India with an even stronger sense of purpose about why she was there. She ended up graduating first in her class.
By bearing witness to Rafea’s struggle and drive, I was fully invested in the outcome of her narrative and she felt that every step of the way. She knew innately that through sharing her story, the camera offered her a platform to influence others to change.
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