GULAB Devi (45) of Harmara village in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district comes across as the quintessential rural woman from Rajasthan. Dressed in the traditional ghagra-choli (long skirt and blouse), Gulab is the sole bread-earner for her four children and her ailing husband who hasn’t had a job in the 24 years of their marriage. Gulab is completely illiterate. Ask her what she does for a living, and she’ll tell you she makes electronic circuits and charges for solar lighting panels. And before you start wondering whether you heard her wrong, she’ll tell you that she also installs and maintains hand pumps, water tanks and pipelines. Not only is she running her household comfortably with her salary from this work, she is also one of the most respected members of her community.

Gulab is one of the many Barefoot Solar Engineers (BSEs) working across eight Indian states (Rajasthan, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Uttaranchal, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Sikkim) to establish solar energy systems in areas where electricity supply is either non-existent or highly erratic. A majority of these engineers, mostly women, are illiterate like Gulab or semi-literate at best. But they talk of transformers, coils and condensers like other women would talk of cooking and sewing. Their dexterity with spanners and screwdrivers is impressive, to say the least. The Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources, the European Commission and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) support the Barefoot Solar Engineering Programme. It is implemented by the Barefoot College, also known as the Social Work Research Centre or SWRC, and NGO based in Tilonia, Rajasthan. Set up by noted social worker Bunker Roy, the Barefoot College addresses community problems.

"The focus is on sustainable use of solar energy. People should be able to do their own solar engineering according to their own needs," says Bhagwat Nandan Sewda, the focal person of the BSE programmes. Affectionately referred to as guruji, Sewda runs solar training programs for people from all over the country.

Previous "Did You Know" sections are

Caroline Lucretia Herschel started as a singer

Annie Jump Cannon has a song written about her

The Women Inventor of the Dishwasher

Margaret Mead is depicted on a U.S. Postal Stamp

Naming the Craters on Venus

Maria Merian on the U. S. Postage Stamp

Hedy Lamarr's Invention

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