They don’t know how to read or write. Yet Iris Marlene Espinal, Carmen Lourdes Zambrano Cruz, Alnora Casy Estrada and Ingrid Miranda Martinez are engineering an energy secure future.
The four women, all from remote corners of Honduras, are leading efforts to install, maintain and repair solar energy equipment in their communities. So far they’ve installed more than 200 panels, each generating 85 watts of power for household and other uses.
“In addition to providing us with light, we can use the radio and TV,” says 69-year-old Juanita Zambrano from Los Hornos. “We can also charge our cell phones and bulbs. We can listen to the news, read the Bible, talk… and we have less risk of fire.”
The women learned their skills through the solar energy programme at the Barefoot College in Tilonia, India. The institution is a pioneer in the field of teaching complex technological processes to illiterate students.
Iris Marlene Espinal, Carmen Lourdes Zambrano Cruz, Alnora Casy Estrada and Ingrid Miranda Martinez during their training in India
Their six-month “solar engineers” study programme was made possible through a partnership between the Government of India and the Small Grants Programme (SGP), a programme supported by the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and UNDP.
The initiative has expanded to 18 countries. As a result, 71 women have been trained as solar engineers, who electrified 3,778 households in 52 villages. Women and girls especially have benefited as they are now able to devote more time to education and income-generating activities.
“We didn’t have any diplomas like students at a normal university,” says Alnora Casy. “In India, we learnt using a practical approach. We brought back a lot of knowledge to benefit our communities and, in a sense, to help them to escape from poverty.”
Back home in Honduras, Marlene, Carmen, Alnora and Ingrid are sharing what they learned with other members of their communities. Together they’re making sure their own children and their neighbours’ children will get a chance to learn to read and write.
“Without any light our children cannot study at home,” says Juanita from Los Hornos. “We now sleep at nine and the children can study at night.”