by Karen Veness

“I packed lightly when I came to Barefoot. I never dreamed how quickly life would lead me down a very different path.” – Abin Thomas, former volunteer, presently; Solar M&E Coordinator

With a bachelor’s degree under his belt, Abin Thomas (23) was in two minds about starting the next step: a master’s program. Wait-listed for a college place, he found himself at Barefoot College in Rajasthan almost by accident. Engaging, warm and witty, Abin had the world at his feet – and some time to spare.

Abin arrived at Barefoot and started working in the crèche. He loved the work and he started to think about staying on longer. When the crèche role ended, he was asked to consider joining Barefoot College’s solar team, looking after monitoring and evaluation (M&E). After a frank chat with his family back in Kerala, his decision was made: he put his masters on hold and threw himself into his new role.

Fast forward three months to July 2017, and Abin found himself crossing northern India and Nepal, visiting remote villages high above the clouds.

All the villages were desperately keen to have access to solar energy. The M&E team does the groundwork: a baseline survey to assess the energy situation of the area and understand the reliance on oil, kerosene, and candles – and then works with ground partners to select the rural women who will become Barefoot’s next intake of ‘solar mamas’, relocating to Rajasthan for six months intensive training.


An M&E survey taking place in Karnataka.

Abin – together with Brenna Gonderman, the college’s South East Asia co-ordinator – went first to ultra-remote Uttarakhand. From there, they crossed into Nepal, heading for Simikot in the Humla region.

Access to Simikot is usually by air. That’s the easy bit. Actually being in Simikot is much harder. Stepping off the plane, you suddenly have less oxygen and a stroll can soon feel like a high-impact workout. Factor in intense sun, bone-dry air, and ever-present dust, and say hello to headaches, sinus pain, and profound fatigue.

Abin and Brenna, together with their Nepali guide, Sonam, were heading for 3 villages high on the steep slopes, around 7km apart. Clambering for hours up, they arrived exhausted, collapsing into the homes of villagers, who were all delighted to see them.

Abin smiles as he remembers: “We climbed up, up, up, it was hot and dry and very steep. It felt like I was chewing my lungs when we finally got to the first village. I was totally exhausted, yet the villagers thought nothing of clambering up and down the mountains. They were so pleased to see us, so kind. We were invited into their homes to stay, and we explained how we could train them if they came with us to Rajasthan. All the women wanted to come!”

Tsirang Pamalama, one of the Solar Mamas for Nepal selected By Abin Thomas and Brenna Gonderman for the 2017-2018 Spring training.

“For a long time, when I thought about what my future would be like, I really wanted the chance to travel, and combine this with photography. I never dreamed I would get the chance to do both in such a short time. If you come and volunteer at Barefoot, you can do anything. Where you start may not be where you end up. I started in the crèche, which is so different to my work now, and I enjoyed both roles.”

Like many other creative staff members on campus, Thomas documents his adventures on Instagram, sharing the values, methods and experiences of our unique work.

“I didn’t expect to get so many opportunities. Barefoot has been my sanctuary, it has allowed me to explore, to challenge myself, and have incredible adventures. “

To know more about volunteering opportunities at Barefoot College, please contact with your resume, skillsets, interests and time commitment.