Lighting the way to community development

Lighting the way to community development

Children learning in the evening thanks to a solar powered lantern

Supporting women to gain new, useful skills can not only help them to boost their income and contribute to development. It can also give them the confidence and local respect needed to play a more active role in community decision making. VSO's Vishva Sodhi explains the benefits of training rural women as solar engineers in Tanzania.

That’s what I found on a recent communications visit, when I spent a couple of days with Tanzanian women who had recently trained as solar engineers. The rural women had been selected to train as solar engineers at Barefoot College in India, which was featured in a recent BBC documentary ‘Solar Mamas’  
VSO volunteers Lesley Reader and Maurice Kwame are working with them closely, through our partner UN Women.
40 year-old Arafa has already fitted sixty-odd solar panels in village homes since returning six months ago. The panels have transformed daily life for many in her community, including village children who can now read books using solar lanterns in their previously poorly lit homes.
The potential of solar energy is being harnessed at full speed in parts of Africa and Asia.

But the real beauty of training rural women as solar engineers lies in the transformation they undergo as individuals and the impact this has on their community as they take on unprecedented leadership roles in their traditional villages.

Arafa remembers dropping out of school, and working the land after marrying an authoritarian husband who beat her, and spent any money she earned on himself. It was painful for her to recollect the days when she didn’t have enough food to eat and clothes to wear.

Today she has remarried and feels empowered to play a more active role in the community because of the rare and sought-after skills she has learned. Arafa sits on a village energy committee that administers solar panel fittings. She plans to equip women in nearby villages with the skills to fit solar panels once a training centre is built, and is already a role model to many girls in her village.

Whether it’s Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Middle East, it is women who suffer most from poverty yet have least influence over what is done about it. VSO is supporting women’s participation and influence in public and political life, whether it’s at the level of representation in national parliaments or, as in these Tanzanian villages, at grassroots level.

As the solar engineers demonstrate, empowering women to take up new economic and political opportunities can transform their lives and have a positive impact on a whole community.

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