Getting up at 6AM to a room that is only hotter than when you went to bed, well it’s not fun. It was cooler outside, but cooler still means 90s. I grabbed my clothes and rushed to the washroom where I took a cup and “showered” with it. It felt so nice. Changing into clothes was difficult though, trying to tell myself that I couldn’t wear that tank top in public and that conservative clothes are necessary, even in the desert. Then I packed my belongings and took them downstairs. At 7AM, they served us chai. We sat and chatted with one of the founders of Barefoot College, then at 8AM we went inside for breakfast.
Some of the women working at the campus.
After breakfast, we were taken on a small tour of the campus. The basis of Barefoot College is to take women from villages who are semi-illiterate or uneducated and train them to do useful things. And by useful, I mean make parabolic solar panels (using a secret method), the circuitry breadboards that control the energy in household systems, weaving with recycled clothes to make rugs on a loom, etc. Women and elders are chosen as students because they are more reliable for staying with in the community. Training men means they will leave and take the knowledge where the money of their trade goes. Elderly are respected in villages, so they and the women are able to teach the others all they learn and pass on the knowledge without having had formal education.
We were taught these lessons through a puppet show put on by the director leading our tour and some men from musical or artistic backgrounds who played accompanying music. One of my favorite lines from the puppet show was when the farmer puppet asked us to guess his age and he lied, saying, “I tell you, years do not say my age! Knowledge, wisdom – that is the true measure!” After our lessons, we were shown a woman dentist, a woman acupuncturist, a man doctor, and a man pathologist. All of these people were helping operate the hospital on the campus and none of them had formal training, yet they were cable of doing absolutely anything that any trained professional could do. Their skills were so well developed that the government has long stopped visiting and has declared the community as self-sustainable.
Next we visited the solar panel creation center where women were making sun-powered hot cookers and enormous, satellite-like panels of small mirror-looking objects.
Some men in the background were building the framework, but the women are the engineers of the project. One woman demonstrated the power of the panels by holding a piece of newspaper in the cooking box. We watched it catch on fire, using nothing but the redirected and reflecting sunlight to light it. After the panels, we visited a room full of international women. There were women from Madagascar, Cambodia, Panama, Colombia, Myanmar, Zanzibar, Comoros, and Nicaragua all in the same room with an Indian instructor.
They communicated by demonstration and body language to learn how to make circuit boards for use in the solar energy systems that the other women were developing.
We also saw a room where women were making notebooks for children, and another where crafter were being made from recycled materials.
Some candles the women made.
We stopped also to see the loom as well as the room where women package the solar panel parts for delivery to other countries from whence they have been ordered.
Loom and rug weaving.
Baby sleeping in the loom room.
Our last visit was in a radio station. The station is local for Tilonia and is broadcast out of a room lined with egg cartons and that cost $10 to build. I was one of the students who got to speak on-air about my name, school, and opinion of the project. They wanted the villagers to see how their project is affecting the world; so some of our international students also spoke.
Then we went to the shop where we could buy crafts, clothes, etc., made by the women. I bought a shirt and a chain of birds with a bell at the end. The cashier didn’t have a five-rupee note to give me in change, so he gave me another small bird chain. When I was done, I got in the bus and waited for the others. Once the bus was full and we started our trip, we were given boxed lunches. It’s a couple hours to Jaipur and we will be spending the night in some fancy hotels from now on.
Stuff I bought from Tilonia village.
We headed to Jaipur next, which was about two hours away from Tilonia. We made a stop at our last project, Akshaya Patra, an enormous India-wide program that delivers hot meals to over a million starving children within a four-hour window from the time of production. The meals are traditional North or South Indian meals. The idea of the program is, by putting food in the stomach of children, parents will encourage the children to go to school and the children will be able to sit through lectures without feeling ill and hungry.
Me and my friend in our hairnets, leis, and bindis.
In just a matter of years, the program has seen an increase in all positive respects in attendance, performance, and retention rates at these schools. As with every project we’ve seen, everyone has an incredible passion for India, their people, and their cause. We were given hairnets and shoe covers and led through the semi-automatic factory where we witnessed chapoti being generated on machines donated by the Japanese Embassy, large vats of daal being stirred, and women hand-picking grains and cleaning hot green chilies.
We were then given refreshments, blessed at the temple by a man with the lid to something like a kalasha which he pressed to our heads as we came up to him. Then we were fed food in another room where we ate on mats without shoes. On the way out, I got to speak for the International News who came to broadcast about our visit.
As we came through the city, we saw some forts and pretty facades. Then the bus pulled over and our professor said he was getting us a treat. I was one of the few to follow. We jumped down and wound through the vendors until we came to a small stand where a guy was covering large, green leaves in fancy candies and syrups. “It’s paan,” said our professor. “It’s a narcotic. I want you all to try it.” So, essentially, my professor bought us street drugs – ha! I had two. You put the wad in your mouth and chew, chew, chew. It’s very flavorful with spices and extremely sweet. The only thing I felt was my mouth was a little numb. I hear it also rots your teeth.
Back on the bus, the professors made an announcement that we would be given traditional dresses to wear, courtesy of IUM, an organization some of the professors are a part of which put together most of the trip. We were all very excited. I’m glad because I wanted to buy a sari, so this is good enough for me and it’s free! No need to stretch my money in the market when we go shopping. Suddenly, we looked out and we could see the Jal Mahal, a palace on water. Our Trident Jaipur hotel overlooks it. We arrived, unloaded, and headed upstairs for our rooms. We were greeted with bindis and drinks on a platter from the hotel staff. Others watched us like we were something special.
We got off the bus and met some family of one professor, then were called down later to try on our dresses. Not all of the girls came and we learned that a few dresses were missing. The professors ran around like crazy for 45 minutes, the one’s mother included, trying to find the saris and accusing people of taking it instead of spending time together. Some of the girls spoke out and said they saw three girls taking dresses before we got to see them because they wanted certain colors. It was extremely petty and the best part is the dresses didn’t even fit the girls who stole them. The rest of us were taken to a room so a tailor could mend them. I got the dress I wanted – a pink one – and only asked to have two inches taken up on the bottom because the dress was too long.
After the dress episode, I went with some of the guys and girls to the pool. We swam, ordered fries, and took advantage of the happy hour. My one friend and I got watermelon margaritas that were literally tequila, ice, and smashed watermelon. I didn’t get much sleep because we stayed up watching YouTube videos and chatting.