Where Will Climate Justice Come From?
It is women who are leading the way to global Climate Justice. We firmly stand behind this statement, and deeply embed this notion into our Barefoot College and Solar Engineer framework.
Our Solar Mamas come from around the world to India to learn skills including Solar Engineering, Women’s Rights and Livelihood Skills. They can then return home with these skills, prepared to spread the knowledge they’ve acquired across their communities. The outcome is a chain effect of more informed, resilient villages that grow more autonomous.
The women selected to become Solar Mamas are those who are recognized for their natural leadership tendencies and their passion for strengthening their local communities. They often already play significant roles in their villages, or champion regional projects which support the well-being of the people.
This peninsular Mayan region of Bacalar in Quintana Roo remains home to 550 indigenous Mayan residents. Most residents are farmers who invest in regenerative farming practices; avoiding monoculture, pesticides and GMO crops. They’ll grow beans, corn, gourds, chilies and bananas together, for example, to avoid soil nutrient depletion and instill natural protection against drought or extreme weather conditions. They also practice organic beekeeping, all on a non-corporate, holistic level.
The Story of K-luumil X’Ko ‘olelo’ob
K-luumil X’Ko ’olelo’ob (“Land of Women”) is a 10-year strong organization founded by indigenous women of Quintana Roo. Run by 12 women today, it focuses mainly on:
1. Indigenous community health
2. Women’s rights
3. Children’s rights
4. Defense of territory
One of its co-founders, Alika, is currently a Solar Mama in Tilonia, India. Another Solar Mama, Vilma, is also a member of the organization. The women were brought to Barefoot with the help of our regional ground partner, UNDP. They sat down with Barefoot College to go a little deeper into the work they do back home. It’s a village about a 5 1/2 hours’ drive from Cancun, in a healthy forested region.
For someone like Alika who moved from the city to the village, the security and fewer incidences of violence are incentives to stay rural. Drug trafficking, migration conflicts and government issues have escalated over the past 15 years in Cancun. Meanwhile, the farmers of Alika and Vilmas’ communities contain small-scale non-corporate family farms and continue living lifestyles that are more or less self-sufficient.
Vilma’s husband is a beekeeper and farmer, while Alika’s husband helps her host women’s rights workshops for both genders. They’re also working on collecting Indigenous heirloom seeds. For 10 years, Vilma has been the administrator of the women’s financial literacy and savings collective. She’s also a wealth of knowledge on natural local medicines. There’s plenty of knowledge and self-sufficiency in their tightly-knit community.
Defenders of the Land
But the forests are under threat, they explain. Exploitation, cash crops and agricultural abuse have degraded the abundance that a pristine Amazon once offered. These threats are all invasive factors, introduced by exterior parties. A mega-corporation like Monsanto spreads its environmentally toxic tyranny across unprotected landscapes, crippling farmers, livestock and residents. Come-from-away farmers such as Mennonite colonies introduce unsustainable practices such as monoculture, degrading soils with artificial fertilizers and clear-cutting old-growth forests.
Defense of territory is an obvious reaction K-luumil X’Ko ’olelo’ob would employ to protect their home. Less topical are the other three main focuses of Vilma and Alikas’ work. In fact, this led to a lesson that came one day to Alika when she was brainstorming ways to attract more women to the then- young organization. In their community, women often have too many of their own responsibilities to partake in extra work. They were reluctant to invest in K-luumil X’Ko ’olelo’ob. Solidarity and territory protection weren’t resonating enough.
Alika began to realize that the real battle was with physical health; analyses began coming out that linked the pesticides and fertilizers being used nearby to cancer and other degenerative diseases. The chemicals were even detected in their women’s breast milk. One of the founder’s sisters eventually passed away due to the toxic levels of chemicals used. K-luumil X’Ko ’olelo’ob’s meetings began focusing more on women’s health and the effects of regional agroforestry.
It immediately attracted more women to come together and stand up against larger corporate bullies. In 2013, they won a legal campaign against Monsanto, suspending their permit in the region. Today 1800 women from 11 communities are associated with K-luumil X’Ko ’olelo’ob and continue to foster the autonomy of their villages.
So why have Vilma and Alika chosen to become Solar Engineers at Barefoot College?
They’re determined to further empower their communities- planning to establish a main centre and maintain it with 100% renewable energy. They’ll return from Tilonia, India and install the solar panels themselves, and be able to maintain them independently. This could result in serious Climate Justice for Quintana Roo. The centre will be a hub for learning and collaborating that functions outside of the government, separate from unreliable and costly grid electricity. Sometimes their grid power is dysfunctional for over a month at a time.
Vilma explains that Barefoot College is an opportunity to deepen empathy and understanding by connecting with international women who all face unique tribulations that they have come to change. These two inspiring Solar Mamas are equally inspired by other incredible women that came fuelled by hopes, ideas and dreams that can help them achieve Climate Justice.