From mother to Solar Mama

In 1972, the inimitable Bunker Roy set up the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, to educate and empower women from rural areas across the world.  When 30 year-old Rafea Anadi, mother of five, found out about the college in 2011, it not only changed her life, but that of everyone in her Jordanian village on the border of Iraq. A six-month session at the college made her Jordan’s first female solar engineer and enabled her to introduce electricity to her village.


 “Rafea first found out about Barefoot College when her aunt, Umm Badr, and a woman from a neighbouring village were selected by Bunker Roy to go and train there. She instantly expressed interest in attending the training programme in India to her family, but the selections had already been made. Fate presented itself when one of the two women backed out at the last minute and Rafea jumped at the chance, packed her bags, and left the next morning,” reveals Mona Eldaief, who along with fellow filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, made the documentary Solar Mamas on Anadi’s inspiring story.

(Top) Rafea Anadi with her husband Alian in the background; with Badr and Umm Badr (above) at a village meeting after returning from India; with her son (Below)

Anadi’s class at the college had 27 women from Kenya, Guatemala, Burkina Faso, Columbia, Congo, and Jordan. The women, many of whom were illiterate and spoke different languages, were taught the basics of solar engineering within six months through sign language, repetition and visual aids.
“While Rafea was excelling at the Barefoot College, her husband called, insisting that unless she came home, he would divorce her and take her children away. After just one month in India, Anadi had realised that she was capable of anything she put her mind to,” says Eldaief. “For the next two months back home in Jordan, she had to battle her husband and the beliefs of other Bedouin women who had resigned themselves to their hopelessness.” It was Anadi’s strength of character and persistence to struggle against the odds that ensured she returned to India to get an education and enrich her life and the lives of others in her community.

Solar Mamas, filmed in 2011, covers the initial orientation in the classroom through circuit board assembly, and the implementation of the solar system in the village. The filmmakers, both of Egyptian origin, were fluent in Arabic, a language that Anadi spoke, therefore making it easy to shortlist her for the subject of their film.

Their documentary was filmed as part of the Why Poverty series, which includes eight films produced in partnership with The Open University that explore why, even in the 21st century, a billion people still live in poverty. Eldaief and Noujaim chose to address the ability of women to use education to become the changemakers in a poverty-stricken community.
Anadi, who had her fifth child after the filming of the documentary, has continued to work on the solar project in her village in Jordan.

Solar Mamas broadcasts on BBC World News on December 22 at 2.40 pm and on December 23 at 7.40 am and 8.40 pm. January 2013 onwards, it will be available online at

Bunker goes Barefoot
Bunker Roy founded the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan in 1972. The organisation initially focussed on solving problems of irrigation and drinking water, but soon also began concentrating on rural unemployment, power and electricity in rural communities. The college enables women from different parts of the world to receive vocational training without the burden of learning how to read or write.

Since 2005, Barefoot College has been teaching the basics of solar engineering to women (mostly grandmothers) from rural areas. Roy travels across the world to select women who are rooted in their community and brings them to Tilonia. “As of the end of 2012, more than 600 Barefoot solar engineers from 41 countries have been trained. 1,062 villages around the world have been solar electrified by them,” says Meagan Carnahan Fallone, Senior Advisor, Barefoot College.  

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