Rural Chileans travel to India to learn solar power maintenance

As part of Barefoot College’s initiative, five Chilean women from small villages in the Atacama Desert will learn to install and repair solar panels.

Five women from rural villages in Chile’s northern Atacama Desert became the unlikely ambassadors of solar power technology to their communities this year.

A group of women from three different rural communities in northern Chile traveled to India in March of 2012. The women attended a six-month intensive course provided by Barefoot College that taught them to install and maintain solar power systems.

“An ad reached us that said they were looking for women between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive training in India,” Luisa Terán, one of the five Chilean women selected to travel to India, told the Inter Press Service. “I was interested from the start, but when they told me it would be for six months, I was hesitant, because that was a long time to be so far away from the family.”

Terán hails from the Atacama village of Caspana, high in the Chilean altiplano.

Joining Terán at the Barefoot College in India was her cousin, Liliana Terán, also from Caspana, Elena Achú and Elvira Urrelo from the Quechua village Ollagüe, and Nicolasa Yufla, an Aymara from Toconce. The group spent six months at Barefoot College’s location in Tilonia, a small village located in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan.

“These are women with skills, but they live in remote places, which means it was an incredible personal experience for them,” Paola Diez, the director of the Chile’s National Women’s Service (SERNAM), told the Inter Press Service.

SERNAM and the regional branch of Chile’s Energy Ministry helped sponsor the initiative, while the Italian company Enel Green Power provided the solar equipment necessary.

Back on Chilean soil, the five women have an important role to fulfill in their communities. Each village received a new solar panel kit that they must install, repair, and maintain for at least five years. They will also provide a storehouse for the electronic components.

About Barefood College

Barefoot College dates back to 1972 and aims to improve the lives of the rural poor around the world. Their current mission is to train rural women from Africa, Latin America, and Asia as solar power technicians. So far, 700 women from 49 different countries have received the title of “barefoot solar engineer,” and the initiative has brought electricity to 450,000 people in rural communities worldwide.