Beaches, music, and natural parks. The Brazilian State of Bahia embodies the country's contradictions: tourism and wealth, as well as extremely high rates of illiteracy and poverty. Here, in the villages of Fazenda Velha and Estrada Velha do Garimpo, the lives of many families has changed for some time now.
Jorge Amado, the bard of Bahia, would have loved this story. It started a short time ago when a woman no longer in her prime and with little education was chosen by her community and given a plane ticket. Her was destination India: Barefoot College, in Rajasthan. She stayed there six months and then came home with a secret within everyone’s reach. That secret is the sun.
The sun inside everyone’s home. This is also another way the programme that Enel Green Power launched with the Indian NGO Barefoot College is known as. It has brought energy, jobs and health to the most isolated communities in Latin America.
A utopia become reality
The founder of Barefoot College, Bunker Roy, 71 years of age, is an Indian educator. In 2010, he was included among the world’s most influential people by the weekly Time magazine. His school, established in 1972 and naturally powered by solar energy, is for illiterate or semi-literate women from small rural communities. Through an all but academic approach, it teaches them to use clean energy and share what they have learned with their communities of origin.
Launched in 2012, the partnership between Enel and Barefoot College has taught women, both young and old, to install and manage solar panels in small villages in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Guatemala. And Brazil, too. The latest beneficiaries are 77 families of the communities of Fazenda Velha and Estrada Velha do Garimpo, in the State of Bahia, where Enel Green Power has a capacity of 236.4 MW of wind power. Capacity will reach 958 MW from wind and solar energy by the end of 2017.
Before the project, these families had no electricity or, if they did, it came from diesel generators with tremendous risks to health. Now, they have the sun.
Upon completing training, the woman came back from India and taught the community to install solar kits that are prepared by other women who had studied at Barefoot College and are able to power four light bulbs and charge a mobile phone and a portable solar lantern.
“It is almost a miracle, this process where you learn by doing, exchanging experiences with other women from all over the world. They come back home with skills, empowered, and full of energy and passion”
Maria Cristina Papetti, Head of Sustainability and Practice Sharing at Enel
Women who teach other women
The education of women is the key of the partnership between Enel and Barefoot College. The model is exported, experience is circulated, the benefits are multiplied and the process of stable access to clean electricity is accelerated. And the life of communities changes. Since 2012, the project has engaged 36 villages in eight South American countries, delivering electricity to over 19,000 people.
And women are always at the centre. Ensuring universal access to electricity, generated in a sustainable, safe and affordable manner, is now recognised to be a factor of vital importance for economic and social development, as well as for gender equality and the empowerment of women, also economically. The possibility to use electricity allows improving many aspects in the lives of women in the most remote villages.
Huge benefits for the economy of rural communities, too. According to research conducted in 2014 by the NGO AVSI, in Brazil, the average monthly expenditure of households to access alternative energy amounted to about BRL 16.00 (sixteen reais). Today, the families covered by the EGP and Barefoot College programme pay 5 BRL (five reais) a month for the maintenance of the solar panels, that is one third. Research has shown that the economic impact of the programme is also significant, not to speak of the health benefits reported by 73% of the people.
Electricity is a precondition for development. Bridging the energy divide that still sees 1.4 billion people without access to electricity is one of the priorities of Enel's Open Power approach. The partnership with the Barefoot College is in line with the goals of the UN Sustainable Development Agenda. One of the goals reads “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” The communities of Bahia are grateful.