Barefoot College

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Barefoot College was set up in 1972 in Tilonia, a village in Rajasthan, one of India’s largest, driest and poorest states. Its success has prompted the Asian Development Bank and other organizations to fund barefoot startups in African countries such as Cameroon, Gambia and Sierra Leone.


Why should I be aware of this?

The Barefoot College identifies the poor, rural jobless and unemployable youth who have been unable to finish their formal education and have returned to their villages as dropouts. These very individuals are trained to be "barefoot" doctors, teachers, engineers, architects, designers, metal workers, IT specialists and communicators. This system does not consider educational degree important when it comes to developing people. Simple confidence-building methods and hands-on training are relied upon to achieve results.

Barefoot college is based on the belief that rural communities posses the wisdom and skill to identify and solve their own problems. The Barefoot College sets out to impart informal, non-structured, on-the-job practical training till such a time that the community develops the confidence and competence to handle their problems without outside help.

All about Barefoot College

When Chennamma and Yelamma “enrolled” in the Barefoot College they were stone crushers. And Kalavati and Zayda were house maids. Today they are barefoot solar engineers who have learned to fabricate, wire, and set up solar energy equipment. They are among the group of “barefoot engineers” from poor rural backgrounds who have been trained in construction, installation, and maintenance of everything from solar panels to rainwater collection tanks at the Barefoot College and are now harnessing solar power to electrify villages in India, Afghanistan and Ethiopia.

The origin of the barefoot revolution can be traced to the early 1960s when the Mao Tse Tung administration in China sent groups of medicos to work in villages as 'barefoot doctors', in a bid to use professional skills in the rural health sector. Barefoot revolution is grassroots and cooperative innovation at its very best. It is based on the belief that the key to alleviating rural poverty lies within communities themselves and do not necessarily come from urban professionals, government intervention or big foreign aid packages

The man behind this growing grassroots movement is an Indian visionary, Sanjit Bunker Roy, whose efforts have earned him awards and praise worldwide.

Encourages mistakes

The Barefoot College, where, according to Roy, the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher, encourages people to make mistakes so that they can learn humility, curiosity, the courage to take risks, to innovate, to improvise and to constantly experiment.

The College is fully solar powered. The installation, fabrication and maintenance of the entire system are in the hands of rural youth who have not gone beyond primary school. With solar energy Tilonia became the first village in India with access to e-mail.

Using local skills and local material the college’s rooftop rain water harvesting program has constructed more than 1,000 collection structures in 17 Indian states, benefitting more than 220,000 people. And at its 200 health centers trained health workers can aid in emergencies and teach about health issues such as hygiene, vaccinations, and other preventative care. The success of rainwater harvesting in recharging ground water in Tilonia led to its adoption as state policy in several parts of India.

Five principles

The Barefoot College is founded on five principles:

  1. Equality:The program treats all members as equal, regardless of sex, class, education, or caste.
  2. Collectivity: Collective decision-making practiced by one and all.
  3. Self reliance: Members are helped to work together to develop the community.
  4. Decentralization: The program is committed to local decision-making, and grassroots level.
  5. Austerity: The staff members lead a simple life committed to generating a close community and a stimulating, creative environment.

Successful Projects

Drinking water

  • Safe drinking water is being provided for the first time through 67 hand pumps at a height of 15,000 ft in Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Village barefoot engineers, who have barely passed primary school, have planned and implemented water supply schemes in 13 villages, benefiting 19,000


Rainwater harvesting

  • In brackish water areas 320 rural primary schools have harvested 18 million litres of rain water through traditional rain water harvesting techniques.
  • To access potable water and protect communities from water borne diseases in 78 villages in 8 states, a total of 1,374 samples were tested by barefoot water chemists.


  • In 8 states in India 300 adult education centers were solar electrified for the first time. This minimized the use of fossil fuels and created a conducive environmental condition for the spread of literacy.
  • 521 night schools have been solar electrified, thus, preventing the use of

kerosene for lighting fuel inefficient lanterns.

  • In Ladakh, 475 houses solar electrified at a height 11-15,000 ft in the Himalayas. This is the first instance of basic lighting being provided on such a large scale so high up in the mountains.


  • Over 3,000 drop-out children comprising 1,200 boys and 1,800 girls attend 150 night schools in 150 villages. All spend the morning looking after sheep, goats and cattle in for their families.
  • To promote children’s rights to a clean environment a Children’s Cabinet is created with a Prime Minister democratically elected from among the children to monitor the process of the night schools.

Traditional media

  • Traditional media like glove puppets are used every year to highlight environmental issues.
  • The first environmental walk in the history of the State of Rajasthan was organized through 64 villages.

Global response

The success stories of "solar engineers" have encouraged semi-literate middle-aged women to travel from places as divergent as Afghanistan, Cameroon, Gambia, Mali, and Sierra Leone to develop the skills to solar electrify their own villages.

  • Bhutan villages

Thirty women from Bhutan are undergoing training at the Barefoot College to become barefoot solar engineers. They will return to electrify 28 villages in their community will be solar-electrified by March 2008. The project is funded by the Asian Development Bank.

  • African rural community

Two African women after being trained at the Barefoot College have brought solar power and clean drinking water to their rural communities in The Gambia. Apart from installing solar power in two villages, they supervised the installation of Rooftop rainwater harvesting systems in five schools in the community.

  • Afghani villages

The Barefoot College selected ten representatives from five remote Afghani villages and trained them to become barefoot solar engineers. The college also purchased and transported solar panels to solar electrify the villages for five years, all for less than the cost of hiring one UN or World Bank Consultant in Kabul for one year.

Friends of Tilonia is a US-based non-profit organization providing marketing and business development assistance to the local crafts and works using the power of Internet.

What can I do?

Where such colleges can be set up?

  • Where there is extreme poverty.
  • Where the neglect of the rural communities reaches such proportions that they are forced to develop and depend on their own knowledge and skills.
  • Where people depend on each other and not on outside help.
  • Where the oral tradition is high because of greater illiteracy. In such societies knowledge and skills are traditionally passed down from one generation to another.

Who can participate?

  • School drop outs, and those rejected by society because of their academic failure.
  • Those who do not stand a chance of getting even the lowest government jobs.


  • Does the Barefoot College apply to your development
  • Here Comes The Sun
  • News of the Barefoot Approach around the world
  • Sanjit Bunker Roy
  • Friends of Tilonia

See Also