Barefoot College to set up Sabah branch
Published on: Monday, July 13, 2015
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Kota Kinabalu: The reality that some 100 villages throughout Sabah have yet to be electrified has prompted the Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals Association (Swepa) to contemplate setting up a branch of the world renowned Barefoot College in Sabah.The Barefoot College was founded by Sanjit "Bunker" Roy in 1972 in Tilonia, a small village on the western part of India, to train illiterate grandmothers from around the world as solar-power engineers.

Swepa's vision was revealed at the discussant session of the recent Seminar on Gender Roles and Development organised by the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) in collaboration with the Sabah Women's Advisory Council (MPWS) and funded by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) in Germany.

Datuk Adeline Leong, who is Project Organising Chairperson of the ongoing Swepa Barefoot Solar Project at Kg Sonsogon Magandai in Kota Marudu, sounded out the association's aspirations for the future of the project.

"If we have the Barefoot College at our doorstep, we can train at least 40 rural women each year, two from each village, which means we can light up 20 villages in one year, rather than bringing light to only one remote village per year.

"In this regard, we hope the State Government and Petronas, maybe, could support our proposal for the establishment of the Barefoot College in Sabah," she said.

Advocating the use of solar energy, Leong said it is green energy and a monthly payment of RM15 by each household at Kg Sonsogon Magandai for maintenance of the solar equipment, is affordable.

In the meantime, she said, Swepa is waiting for yet another "divine intervention" to enable the association to replicate the project (after its success at Kg Sonsogon Magandai) at neighbouring Kg Sungai Magandai which has 50 homes without electricity.

"We hope the Global Environment Facility-Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP) will consider our application for another sum of US$50,000 to finance the proposed project," she said. The Small Grants Programme (SGP) is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and executed by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

In response, panel speaker Datin Jeanette Tambakau, then President of Swepa cum Barefoot Solar Project Adviser, concurred with Leong that the proposal to replicate the Barefoot College in Sabah was a bigger vision of the association.

"Where do we go from here now (after Kg Sonsogon Magandai and Kg Sungai Magandai)? Needless to say, there are opportunities for us to replicate the project in other parts of Sabah.

"A lot needs to be done. We will explore the possibilities. Having the Barefoot College in Sabah will definitely facilitate the process of empowering more rural grandmothers in our home-state.

"We (Swepa) are here to help other women. Our tagline is Women Helping Women. Hence, we are seeking local partners to realise our vision. If all interested parties put their heads together and join hands in pooling our resources, I am sure our 'dream' will be achieved," she enthused.


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