Written by Stella Morielli, Barefoot College Volunteer Coordinator

How can we bridge two separate worlds? How do we bring lives and experiences together to harness critical knowledge on climate change? How do we remedy this crucial moment of history, where communities are already paying the dues of our debt to Mother Earth, into a common path of change?

The urban community of Yerwada in Pune was born as a temporary settlement around one of India’s biggest prisons. As many of those places in urban areas of the developing world, the settlement has become one of the largest ‘informal’ neighbourhoods of the city.

This means that 3rd generation dwellers are still lacking access to the most basic facilities, deficits that in urban areas become even more challenging due to population pressure, and the problems related to surviving in the abundance of contrasts in the Megalopolis of the world.

A view of Yerwada


As removed as it is similar, these realities are also faced by the rural inhabitants of the desert region of Rajasthan, in Tilonia. Youths here face analogous challenges to the kids in Yerwada, as do their families. It’s a comparable kind of isolation; hard life, hard work, limited access to schooling and ways to improve the quality and dreams of one’s life.

The only difference is that in Tilonia, a unique organization lives and prospers. One that strives to create long-term, viable solutions to the hardships of local communities. Since 1972, the Barefoot College has been providing relief and access to solutions in healthcare, energy and clean water, education and human rights awareness for the rural poor.

At the Barefoot College, people have ‘dared to dream’, and make their dreams a reality. Not in the hope of moving away from their communities, but working hard to ensure a better future for them, exactly where they are.

Discussion on Global Warming at Govardampura Night School


In Yerwada, somebody has also dared to dream: Akshada, Akil, Shaurya, Rukshana, Pankaj, are the students that have been selected for the Unprint Challenge. Thanks to Nishit and Gaurav, their former teachers in the Yerwada school who are managed by Teach for India. Thanks to their passion and a crowdfunding campaign, the group has made its way to Tilonia, to learn and experience the Barefoot Philosophy.

The encounter between the Unprint Challenge and the Barefoot College has resulted in a 3-day learning journey that complies with the MDG 13 (Climate Action) as well as 4 (Quality Education)  and 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).

Once at Barefoot College, the students were united with a group of local youngsters. These were students of the school that the Barefoot College started with the aim of improving and promoting a revolution in rural education- the Shiskshani Ketan School.

This encounter has created a unique platform for interaction and exchange between two groups of young people that come from such contrasting worlds. It offers them each a chance to get to know each other, to understand that their experiences share similarities and that their lives are not so apart from each other. They have worked together on water testing, filtering, and water harvesting. In the green setting of the nursery, they have learned about local plants, the inner laws of biodiversity, and the treasurable knowledge that has been kept by people from the region who harness traditional wisdom to safeguard our future.

They have discussed waste management and composting, and how to use it to grow their own food in harsh environments. They have built solar lanterns, and finally, they have realized that it is in community action, ownership and awareness,  that the power lies to change our reality and turn history around. We have all discovered the hope that even if the clock might be ticking, we could still be on time to reverse it.

This happens in the everyday attitude we project onto our lives, and in how we consciously choose to make a difference. It is this idea of an agency that is essential to the next generation. The experience of Barefoot College proves that every single person, no matter how isolated, can lead change when in conscious possession of the right knowledge and tools.

So to come back to my initial questions, how do we turn fear of the future, the failure of our relation to Nature and its creatures into a positive reaction, a common project for all the World’s communities to ally for? How do we harness a global and local path toward change and awareness?

‘In unity is power’:  by bridging the gaps between cultures and contexts, by cherishing what unites us instead of what separates us, and by recognizing the inner bond that each of us has to Mother Nature, we can really find common solutions to the universal threat of Global Environmental Degradation.

I witnessed the seeds for this future sewn in those three days. There was a light of hope in those young eyes. May each bring along a small sapling of change in their lives and in their communities. May the teaching of Barefoot College and of the amazing Mentors that have made this adventure possible become the roots of their wisdom.

And may leaves of innovations grow on the branches of tradition, to work cooperatively towards a better future.