Capacity Development at the Grassroots - Barefoot Solar Engineers of Ethiopia

In 2004, as part of a pilot initiative on decentralized service delivery in the 4 poorest regions in Ethiopia, 34 illiterate villagers were trained to build, install, and maintain solar photo-voltaic PV systems bringing electricity for the first time to remote villages.

The sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon, coloring the azure sky with brilliant pink and orange hues. Ahadi Ahmed realized that she had to pick up the pace. Gingerly perched on top of the thatched roof of her neighbor’s mud hut, she expertly connected the copper wiring to the solar panel units, which she had assembled earlier in the day. A crowd was beginning to gather with all eyes fixed on the village chief as he ceremonially flicked on the main switch as thunderous cheers erupted. For the first time in history, light had come to Wasaro-Sabure, a remote village in the Ethiopian state of Afar, 400 kilometers from the capital, Addis Ababa. Ahadi was not used to all this attention. After all, she was not an urban educated electrical engineer. She was a mother of five children, a goat herder who had lived in Wasaro-Sabure her entire life, who had never attended school, and was illiterate. Ahadi’s accomplishments may have been remarkable given her humble background, but hers was by no means an isolated experience. Her story had been repeated several hundred times over the past decade, primarily in villages across India. Ahadi was a "Barefoot Solar Engineer" (BSE)—one of the first in Ethiopia and in all of Africa. The experience of poor rural women trained as BSEs from India suggested that illiteracy, extreme poverty, and social exclusion did not produce insurmountable barriers to acquiring applied skills that could lead to income generation, greater empowerment, and self-reliance.

Year of publication: 
UNDP Capacity is Development knowledge fair
Themes and sectors: 
Energy sector

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