Our Sikkim Trainee group, January 2020

 

Why We Focus on Women

These past few tumultuous months have truly revealed the innate perseverance of women. Our selected trainees are recruited due to their strength of character, willingness to learn and ambitions to become their own businesswomen. What’s not on paper is that in the face of greater adversaries, they still find the courage to overcome the unforeseen, to push ahead and remain positive. These characteristics propel them forward and suggest that any challenges they may face in the future will only serve to increase their resiliency.

Trainees learn about solar lantern use and assembly in class

 

Program Supported by The Starbucks Foundation and Apple

16 newly selected women coming from Hathikuli, Assam embarked on Barefoot’s unique training program for 2.5 months. Most of the selected trainees had never left their homes on the estate, thus this amount of travel was a massive leap into the unknown. These women were daily wage labourers of a tea estate- tea farming was likely their primary skill for their entire lifetimes. The majority of the women were completely illiterate or semi-illiterate, having completed, at the most, some of secondary school.

Arriving in Sikkim on January 6th after being carefully escorted from Assam, they would dive into a completely unique curriculum and lifestyle, surrounded by encouraging trainers and fellow marginalized women in a safe and healthy learning environment. Their introductions began at a welcoming ceremony at the main dining hall. Objectives and the structure for the next 2.5 months were outlined while ensuring that the women felt comfortable, prepared and excited for the duration.

Master Trainer Monika gives an introduction on Smartphones

 

Solar Engineer Training

Their curriculum is comprehensive and impressively technical; it begins with the importance of solar energy for their communities and ends with the skills to completely harness and share this technology by themselves. They learn about tools including soldering irons and multi-meters, they understand colour codes and resistance values. They discover how to assemble LED lamp circuits, DIVA lanterns, BINDI torches and charge controllers. They refine the skills to assemble entire solar systems and REW installations. Solar products, charging and checking for defects in wiring and components become second nature to them. They gain experience in confident customer service regarding products and queries.

Smartphone Savvy

Eventually, they become savvy in smartphone technology– all basic features including settings, functions, emails, networking, internet, digital payments, precautions and safety are acquired. Most importantly, they each receive their own smartphone to keep after they have returned home, to help maintain their livelihood and enterprise endeavours. This digital literacy program is paired with Barefoot’s unique Enriche curriculum, taught by Michelle Mall and Laxmi Sharma.

Enriche training is a comprehensive self-empowerment experience for trainees

 

The Incredible Potential of “Enriche”

Enriche invigorates thought around self-awareness, basic human rights, aspirations, confidence and leadership. These competencies complement the Entrepreneurship Skills that are learned throughout the program. Financial literacy, budgeting and bank account savings information are also integral components of their journeys, gaining them the capacity to manage their own businesses and sales. Equality, education, health, domestic violence, child marriage, women’s reproductive health, social barriers, menstrual health, nutrition and hygiene support the comprehensive structure of the Enriche curriculum by empowering and informing trainees.

Finally, Enriche facilitates workshops including rainwater harvesting, composting and fuel-efficient outdoor cookstove building to amplify the resiliency of entire communities that will learn from the trainees once they’ve returned home. The bulk of this information serves to foster receptive, motivated and confident trainees who gain leverage through the program to continue independently working once the training has been completed. 

Future Entrepreneurs in training!

 

Training finished for the women on March 22nd, 2020. Unfortunately, lockdown hindered their travels home, and the trainees were stuck for an extra 2 months at the Sikkim campus. On May 16th 2020, after very hard work and dedication by Barefoot team members Paramjeet, Abhijishya and Amit, permits were arranged for the women to return to their homes in Assam. A bus was eventually arranged by Mahendra Gurung and we’re tremendously grateful for the assistance with such logistics. Shiva Prakash Ray, SWRC coordinator, escorted the trainees home on the reserved bus.

We Owe Everything to our Amazing Staff!

Throughout the long process, Mukesh Gupta motivated the trainees and conversed with their families to keep spirits at ease. Trainees mentioned that despite all of the tribulations they’d faced, Mukesh made them “feel at home”. The Block Development Officer and Sumbuk Block Government of Sikkim provided food and local residents supplied 15000 L of potable water to the centre. The staff of the Campus Health Centre assisted wonderfully with masks, sanitizers and health checks.

Trainees finally returned safely home by bus in May 2020

 

Barefoot College is colossally grateful to everyone who helped to mitigate and organize for this unique and unprecedented situation. Collectively, the entire process was a huge success; every trainee was able to finish her training in full and return home safely with a clean bill of health. Now, we await the coming days when the women will be able to implement everything they’ve learned as entrepreneurs and help to create lasting change in each of their underserved communities.

Please support our programs and help fund more women trainees for training in Sikkim.