A foundation turns Botswana rural village women into solar engineers

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Solar Panels

The Great Plains Foundation has facilitated the training of nine women from communities in the Okavango region in Botswana as solar engineers, dubbed “Solar Mamas.”

This endeavour which began in 2018 is undertaken in collaboration with Barefoot College International, an institution which works with illiterate and semi-literate women from over 90 countries. Its mission is to create sustainable economic and social development in some of the most remote and poorest parts of the world.

“Their flagship program is a women-centric access to sustainable energy program that teaches women to be solar engineers, educators and entrepreneurs,” said Tracey Taylor, the Environmental and Community Outreach Manager for Great Plains Conservation, based in Maun, Botswana.

“The women return home with the skills to solar electrify their communities and create access to opportunities such as education, livelihoods and better health,” she added.

What motivated her organization to support Botswana women to travel to Barefoot College International’s training centers in India, was the goal to increase access to clean energy in the Okavango region of Botswana.

“Access to electricity and a safe light source has many benefits including, but not limited to, allowing children to safely continue their studies after dark, better health through the use of less kerosene and therefore reduced smoke inhalation and the empowerment of women and girls through increased status and opportunity,” Taylor expounded.

Generally, women are viewed as key drivers for change within the rural environment. This is because, often times men are drawn away from their home villages in search of work, leaving women behind to raise children and attend to the daily needs of their families and communities.

By training Botswana women as “Solar Mamas,” the Great Plains Foundation believes knowledge is retained in the villages and is shared with others in the community and family.

“Consequently, it is passed down through generations, leading to sustainable long-term impact,” explained Taylor.

The nine women from the Okavango villages who were selected to attend the training were selected through Kgotlas, a community traditional assembly for decision making. The women were identified as respected leaders within their communities.

To date, besides starting their own small business enterprises with the skills and leadership they acquired, Botswana’s “Solar Mamas” have been engaged in the setting up of COVID-19 committees in five villages of the Okavango Community Trust to ensure that the health of their communities during the pandemic is prioritized.

For women like Olebogeng Samaemo, one of the Seronga village “Solar Mamas,” training with Barefoot College International was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The exposure to solar technology as well as other cultures from around the world broadened their perspective.

“Through their training, they were able to participate in Barefoot’s Enriche program which gave them valuable skills to take back home,” said Tracy Taylor.

She further noted that the training strengthened and built the women’s aspirations, confidence and competence in areas such as access to finance, digital inclusion, better physical and reproductive health.

Becoming solar engineers is a fit option for Botswana rural village women as Botswana’s climate lends itself perfectly to solar energy above other renewable energy sources and is scalable from single households to larger businesses in a rural setting. Enditem

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