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.
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 non formally educated, some having finished at the most secondary school.
Arriving in Sikkim on January 6th after being carefully escorted from Assam, they would start onto a journey of learning, enhancing their skills and knowledge, building their confidence and realizing their aspirations, surrounded by encouraging trainers and fellow trainees in a safe and healthy learning environment. Their introductions began at a welcoming ceremony at the main dining hall. Objectives and the structure of the next 2.5 months were outlined while ensuring that the women felt comfortable, prepared and excited for the duration.
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 multimeters, 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.
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 a part of the holistic Enriche curriculum, which covers areas such as Aspirations & Agency, Entrepreneurship & Micro Enterprise Skills, Financial Literacy, Women Wellness, Rights and Responsibilities, and Sustainable Living. Interactive discussions, videos, games and peer to peer sharing during the workshops aim at invigorating thought, increasing awareness and encouraging action in these areas.
The Incredible Potential of “Enriche”
The Entrepreneurship workshops aim at building the foundation of the trainees’ entrepreneurial journeys by providing in-depth information on topics such as Customer Relationship Building, Product Value Proposition, Sales & Marketing, Seller and Consumer Rights, etc. These workshops paired together with Financial Literacy workshops, which focus on Savings, Budgeting and Loans, improve informed financial decision-making capabilities and financial health of the participants.
The other areas covered in the Enriche workshops include Nutrition, Menstrual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Personal Hygiene, Human Rights and Child Rights, Solid Waste Management, Sustainable Living Practices, such as reduced-smoke cookstoves, etc.
The knowledge and awareness gained through the curriculum help participants increase their confidence and enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, leadership skills, etc. They are encouraged to share their new-found knowledge with their communities on their return.
Training finished for the women on March 22nd 2020. Unfortunately, lockdown hindered their travels home, and the trainees were stuck for nearly an extra 2 months at the Sikkim campus. During these challenging times, Enriche facilitators- Michelle and Lakshmi, who were present with the women, kept the spirits of the trainees high by constantly supporting them and finding new and creative ways to engage them. On May 16th 2020, permits were arranged for the women to return to their homes, after very hard work and dedication by Barefoot team members Paramjeet, Abhijishya and Amit, who stepped up and made these arrangements. A bus was eventually arranged by Mahendra Gurung and we are 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.
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.