She knows how much I love ralli quilts and the video shows two women preparing a quilt top for appliqué.
"Wish I could sit like that..." I thought, as I watched the video. Then, I realized I had no idea where Tilonia was. Tilonia? Well, I googled and followed links and was amazed to read on about this place in Rajasthan, India, which hosts the novel concept of a Barefoot College.
This is how they describe themselves:
"The Barefoot College is a place of learning and unlearning. It's a place where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher. It's a place where NO degrees and certificates are given because in development there are no experts-only resource persons. It's a place where people are encouraged to make mistakes so that they can learn humility, curiosity, the courage to take risks, to innovate, to improvise and to constantly experiment. It's a place where all are treated as equals and there is no hierarchy.
So long as the process leads to the good and welfare of all; so long as problems of discrimination, injustice, exploitation and inequalities are addressed directly or indirectly; so long as the poor, the deprived and the dispossessed feel its a place they can talk, be heard with dignity and respect, be trained and be given the tools and the skills to improve their own lives the immediate relevance of the Barefoot College to the global poor will always be there."
The college has a focus on handicrafts with workshops in embroidery, sewing, block printing, furniture making, and other traditional crafts.
These are natural extensions of Rajasthan's rich history in all of these crafts. Friends of Tilonia was established to help market the handicrafts:
"Friends of Tilonia, Inc. is a US-based, 501(c)3 non-profit organization established to provide marketing and business development assistance to the crafts section of the Barefoot College, in Tilonia, Rajasthan, India. For more than 35 years, the Barefoot College has been working to address basic needs of the rural poor: water, health, education, energy and employment, while enrolling individuals in the processes that govern their lives.
In 1975, the lack of employment in the villages in Rajasthan forced many of the rural poor to migrate to the cities. While largely an agricultural area, many of the poor in the region were artisans engaged in various crafts. Lacking access to a broader market, these rural artisans abandoned, and still continue today to abandon their trades to seek other, more gainful means of livelihood.
The Barefoot College began promoting rural craft production to address this problem of under-employment. Assistance in improving designs and techniques, creation of marketing outlets, and access to credit have helped to restore and create new income opportunities for craftsmen and women. Training and materials provided by the College also enables women to work from home, helping them to generate income from their needlework or other handicrafts."
Their beautiful website showcases the products made by these artisans as well as photos of the producers, such as the ones I have used in this post. But, the college goes way beyond these efforts and its geographical location. They are tackling issues of malnutrition, illiteracy, health, solar power and many other fundamentals of survival most rural poor face around the world.
Then, I watched this video:
The First Women Barefoot Solar Engineers Of The World
I was absolutely floored! They are bringing rural, illiterate, middle aged women from around the world to live in Tilonia for six months to become solar engineers! As they do not share a common language, all the training is done through drawings and color coding. You have to watch the video to really understand the amazing strategy and potential impact this program has on the participants and the villages they represent.
When I was in college, I learned about Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who revolutionized the concept of learning, especially when working with literacy and the poor. Wikipedia states:
"More challenging is Freire's strong aversion to the teacher-student dichotomy. This dichotomy is admitted in Rousseau and constrained in Dewey, but Freire comes close to insisting that it should be completely abolished. This is hard to imagine in absolute terms, since there must be some enactment of the teacher-student relationship in the parent-child relationship, but what Freire suggests is that a deep reciprocity be inserted into our notions of teacher and student. Freire wants us to think in terms of teacher-student and student-teacher - that is, a teacher who learns and a learner who teaches - as the basic roles of classroom participation."
The Barefoot College is Freire's dream come true! What a wonderful model this place is for all who are interested in empowering the disenfranchised. When I see programs like this, my hope for the future is renewed. If you are looking for an organization to support, I would say that any support given here is money well spent.