SWEPA members visit Solar Mammas, Project 2.0 in Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajesthan, India


28th April, 2016. It was just six weeks ago SWEPA Barefoot Solar Committee members sent off the two grandmothers Gining Jaineh and Rusni Singkamung from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah enroute to Barefoot College, Tilonia, Rajesthan, India for their six months training to learn how to be Solar Mammas. On 28th April, 2016, a group of thirteen (13) made up of nine (9) SWEPA members led by SWEPA Executive cum Barefoot Committee member Rosie Moo with Stella Wong (Assistant Treasurer), Monica Chung, Peggy Chan, Salina Lee Abdullah, Maimunah Abdullah, Li Yo Wei, Datuk Ruhsimah, Molly Yong and four (4) SWEPA family members Herman Yee (Rosie’s husband), Chan Chye (Peggy’s husband), Christopher Wong and Catharine Lee (Stella’s brother and sister in law) headed to India to visit Gining & Rusni. On 29th April 2016 another group of eight (8) headed by SWEPA Barefoot Solar Project Organising Chairperson (OC) Datin Jeanette Tambakau with Deputy OC Teoh See See, SWEPA Committee member Datuk Aminah Ambrose, Barefoot Solar Project partner Tan Sui Lin foundation representative Madam Lydia Tan, Mdm Liew Ai Yen (mother of Teoh See See) videographer Adam Tambakau, two friends Telwant Kaur and Wannie Chew flew to India to visit Gining and Rusni.

It was a very long journey from Kota Kinabalu to Barefoot College Tilonia which took a total of about 30 hours. We started at 12.10 pm on 28th April on a 2.05 hour flight from Kota Kinabalu to Singapore with a 12 3/4 hour transit time before taking a five (5) hour flight from Changi Airport, Singapore to New Delhi, India. With such a long transit time, we had time to admire the super-efficient yet beautifully landscaped Changi Airport and take a free Lion City tour.


We arrived in Delhi Airport at 5.15 a.m. on 29th April which was 7.15 a.m. back home. We adjusted our watches to local time, changed some Indian Rupees and located a telephone service provider to buy a local sim card for internet use and local calls. After collecting our luggage, we found a café to have breakfast and to celebrate Catharine Lee’s birthday with a cake and birthday wishes all around. We had plenty of time to relax while waiting to board the 12.20 p.m. one hour domestic flight to Jaipur city, the capital of Rajesthan. As the ATR aircraft flight flew over the state of Rajesthan, we could see a dusty landscape with sparse vegetation.




The aerial view from the ATR aircraft of the landscape of Jaipur.


Upon arrival at Jaipur airport, our tour coach picked us up for a late lunch before heading to the town of Tilonia. The landscape all throughout the journey by road was dotted with sparse trees and hardly any grass. It took us about 2 ½ hours before arriving at Tilonia at about 5 p.m. and checked in to a most majestic looking Royal Heritage Hotel.



The small town of Tilonia and the city of Jaipur falls within a semi-arid region. Rainfall is only found during the monsoon season in July and August while the remaining months of the year are dry.


The following morning on 30th April, our group of 13 + 1 with Nelson Chew our tour guide from Kota Kinabalu went by coach to Barefoot College.




We saw a cart drawn by cows on the way to Barefoot College. We were informed that this was a common means of transport in Tilonia.


We arrived about 9.40 a.m. at the Women Barefoot Solar Engineers Training Centre and found our two grandmothers Gining and Rusni in the midst of class. Seeing that it was a poignant moment for us all, the instructor allowed a break for chats and photographs.



Gining and Rusni posing by the College signboard. Notice the numerous neem trees and the dry, dusty landscape.


Rusni and Gining in the midst of training together with their classmates. Standing behind them: SWEPA cum Barefoot Committee Member, Rosie Moo, Catharine Lee (SIL of Stella Wong), Datuk Ruhsimah (new member) and member Molly Yong.



A group picture with Gining & Rusni and her classmates during class. L – R: Stella Wong, Salina Lee, Monica Chua, Rosie Moo, Peggy Chan, Datuk Ruhsimah, Molly Yong, Li Yo Wei, Maimunah Lee, Chan Chye, Catharine Lee, Christopher Lee and Herman Yee. At the forefront is their class instructor showing a solar lantern.




Group with Gining & Rusni. (Left to right : Barefoot Solar Project Committee member Datuk Aminah, Representative of Barefoot Solar Project partner Tan Sui Lin Foundation Lydia Tan, Barefoot Solar Project Deputy OC Teoh See See , Mdm Liew Ai Yen, Barefoot Solar Project OC Datin Jeanette Tambakau, Telwant Kaur.


Our visit was a happy yet sad occasion for Gining and Rusni. When the crowd of us surrounded them, they were happy to see fellow Sabahans as it reminded them of their own families left back home in Kg Sungai Magandai and Binontungan Suyad. They could not help the tears that fell from their eyes. Gining said that she missed her children very much especially her youngest son Fesrin who is only 6 years old. She felt all the more heavy hearted because she recently heard news from her daughter Jainah in Kota Marudu that Fesrin had been ill, having a very nasty cough and was very concerned that the cough could be a sign of him having a serious illness like Tuberculosis. Both grandmothers were provided with a phone each but because there were no telephone lines in her remote village 260 KM from Kota Marudu, Gining was not able to speak directly to her husband Jukimin Bin Umbok and all her children back home. The hot, dry weather in the summer of semi-arid Tilonia was one thing she had to adjust to. More difficult to bear was adjusting to being away from her loved ones. She spent many a sleepless night thinking of her sick son. Being a mother, she ached to hold him in her arms and wanted to make sure all was done to seek treatment for her son. When asked how she was progressing with her training, she said she was able to follow but due to her poor eyesight, she sometimes had difficulty reading the symbols on the components. Changing her glasses did not help much so finally the College got her a magnifying glass to help.


This font are even smaller on dark surfaces.                         The code names are in very small font.



“Ahh, with the help of a magnifying glass – I can see clearly now” says Gining.

Rusni, the more quiet of the two, said that she missed her family too. We gave them words of encouragement that it will be only another 18 weeks before they graduate and will be home to Sabah. Many of us brought gifts for the two grandmothers.



SWEPA member Peggy Chan & hubby Chan Chye presenting a gift to Gining. Their Instructor is flanked on the right.



Some gifts from Stella Wong with her sister-in-law Catharine Lee and SWEPA member Monica Chua for Gining & Rusni.

We were then brought to visit the new campus where we were shown a video clip of the Barefoot College, its history, mission and activities. Being our first visit to Barefoot College, it was certainly an eye opener. It was amazing to learn what the brainchild and founder Sanjit “Bunker” Roy had done for Barefoot College and is still doing for the communities in India and other countries. The College reaches out to the “drop-outs, cop-outs and the wash-outs” the poor and handicapped who are illiterate with no formal education are given an opportunity to learn skills which otherwise would never be available to them. Skills learned are electrification of villages through solar power, dental care, pathology, community radio and puppetry just to name a few. Many that are trained returned back to their villages to teach or give services to their community while some return back to Barefoot College to be instructors.

After the video, we were brought to see the activities in the new campus. The first one was the traditional art of puppetry which the College trains their students to share information on good health, water conservation, education and housing practices. We were privileged to see a short puppet show depicting an older person passing down ideas and values to a younger person. One sentence still stays with me “Every person has knowledge, skill and wisdom.”




The range of puppets depicting various characters.

We were brought by the Barefoot College Co-ordinator Mr Nandlal to see first hand the skills being taught. Firstly, we met a Barefoot dentist who had been trained to provide dental treatment and care. She could do simple tooth filling, extraction and scaling. Basic dental care taught includes the use of a neem twig to be chewed as a toothbrush and a tongue cleaner. Many neem trees could be seen in the Barefoot College grounds and are plentiful as they are easily grown in Tilonia.

We then met a lab technician who had learnt how to operate a simple lab that could conduct simple blood tests and analysis. He entered the college as an illiterate and could hardly speak English but now he was able to explain to us in reasonable good English and has mastered the skills as a lab technician.

Since the following day 1st May would be International Labour Day, not many skill centres were operational but we were fortunate to see the Community Radio in operation. A young lady by the name of Aarti Devi was on duty and she explained to us the purpose of Barefoot College Community radio. All the radio operators were trained at Barefoot College whose job was to reach out to as many local people around Tilonia providing up-to-date news, useful information, tips, motivational music, talks which is a means communicating to many who live in the far flung rural villages. Most of the broadcast were pre recorded and not live to ensure quality of the broadcast. She spoke good English and we could see that she thoroughly enjoyed her work.



SWEPA ladies Maimunah, Rosie, Molly and Salina in the Community Radio Room with staff on duty Aarti Devi. Notice that the room is made soundproof with the use of egg trays! How cost saving and creative is that!


We were treated to lunch, teas (usually called “chai”)and dinner during our one day tour at BC. It was simple, yet delicious meals cooked with love by Barefoot College members.



Sitting on the floor for meals is the norm at Barefoot College. It was expected help with the cleaning up like washing up your own trays and cutlery before and after meals. L-R: Stella Wong, Salina Lee and Maimunah Lee enjoying the simple lunch on self-served trays.



Group photo with Gining, Rusni and the three instructors. This picture was taken standing in the hot afternoon sun – in a temperature of over 40 degrees Celsius.



The complete group of 21 visitors from SWEPA and family with Gining, Rusni and Co-ordinator Nandlal.



The cheerful visitors at the newly built hostel in Barefoot College where Gining & Rusni stayed with their coursemates.



Inside the new hostel occupied by Gining & Rusni. We couldn’t resist sitting on their beds for a picture.




Gining & Rusni ‘s batch. March 2016 – September 2016



The Instructor showing the class how to light up a solar lantern.


Solar panels and a book on display at the Barefoot Women Solar Engineers Training Centre.


When asked how their training was so far, Gining and Rusni informed that the first challenge was the language. It was like a duck talking to a chicken because each could not understand what the other was talking about. Their course mates came from Tanzania, Columbia, Liberia, Fiji, Madagascar, Senegal, Guatemala, Zimbabwe and Micronesia. Gining & Rusni could speak Dusun and Bahasa Malaysia while the instructors & their course mates their own country native language. It was through sign language between the instructor and amongst and recognition of colour codes of each component that eventually they were able to slowly learn. The technical skills being taught were how to connect the wires from a solar panel to a lantern, use and maintenance of batteries and how to trouble shoot should any problems occur. This includes understanding the functions of each component. They tried to pick up some basics of each other’s language to further improve their communications with each other.

Their classes are from 9 a.m. to 1 pm with an hour lunch break and would continue into the afternoon from 2 pm to 5 p.m. They receive 2,000 Rupees as allowance which they can use for their hand phone reload and for other personal use.

We were informed that our arrival on April 30th to Tilonia is within the hottest months of the year in the state of Rajesthan. No wonder we experienced the very, very dry heat which was over 40 degrees Celsius which is different from Sabah’s tropical heat. Back home, we would surely be sweating but surprisingly here in spite of the high temperature, we hardly sweated. The sparse vegetation was attributed to the fact that it only rains two months a year. The rainfall during these months are therefore very precious and collected to last the community throughout the year. When asked how they coped with the heat, Gining said it is different type of heat back home but bearable. As for food, she could adjust to the local food although she badly missed Malaysian food. She noticed the vegetable dishes sometimes tasted unusually sandy.




It’s not all work and no play for the two grandmothers. They got to learn self-defence and dancing as part of the Enriche Co-curriculum.



Rusni focusing at a self-defence class which is part of Enriche Co-curriculum.



Gining & Rusni learning a dance with instructor Lucy Argelies the Enriche Program Co-ordinator

Visit To Children’s Night School

Our tour of Barefoot College ended with a visit to the night school for children. It was an eye opening experience to see young children studying at night in disused government classrooms organised by Barefoot College. Why at night time? We found out that during the day, these children help their parents in the farm and only have time at night to study.



Children of all ages learn while sitting on the floor with their learning materials.



Learning has no borders for these children.


A group picture to round up our visit with the youngsters. L – R: Rosie Moo, Barefoot College Education worker Dashrath, Teacher Knisath, Molly Yong, Maimunah Lee & Salina Lee.


Our trip to Barefoot College, Tilonia was truly amazing and unforgettable. We had the privilege of seeing for ourselves the love, dedication and humanity of the people who serve and learn in Barefoot College. We wish and pray for the continued success and blessings for Mr Bunker Roy and his team in their mission to enhance the lives of to the ordinary, the poor, the handicapped and illiterate people not only of India but the world through education and skills learning in Barefoot College Tilonia.


Written by Rosie SJ Moo

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