A disaster recovery and energy sustainability project
Throughout June and July, 22 rural women from across the island (plus two Solar Mamas from Chile) have come together for an intensive solar energy training in the Maricao municipality of Puerto Rico, a rural area that is one of the poorest regions — and hardest hit by Hurricane Maria— on the island.
These women are becoming groundbreaking Barefoot College Solar Mamas by learning how to design and deploy self-contained solar microgrids, which can power entire houses, water systems and all critical infrastructure in their communities. Upon graduating as Solar Mamas on July 20th, the women will become a vital component of Puerto Rico’s renewable energy future.
This pilot training is the first of its kind in a Global South environment taught by an organization who has demonstrated the benefits of solar power in poverty-stricken and marginalized communities around the world. Barefoot College Solar Mamas work in every significant impoverished region in the world, from remote villages in the Amazon rainforest to the frigid climates of Arctic Russia and nearly 100 countries in between.
To promote peer-to-peer learning and cultural exchange, two Chilean graduates of the Barefoot College training in India have joined with trainers from the college to conduct an intensive course adapted to the local region. Their life stories and experiences installing solar energy in their villages of Chile, offer great strength and vision for what can be accomplished in Puerto Rico.
The graduating Solar Mamas represent the first time a project has been conducted with US citizens, making the United States Barefoot College’s 97th country of operation. Applying proven energy solutions learned and perfected spanning over 40 years in communities to a modern, advanced region, the project is made possible by a grant from the Center of Disaster Philanthropy in partnership with the Friends of Barefoot College-USA.
In Sept. 2017, Hurricane María, a Category 5 storm decimated Puerto Rico. An estimated 1.5 million people lost electricity on the island, causing the largest blackout in U.S. history. It took 11 months to restore electricity to communities far and wide, exposing how vulnerable the energy infrastructure is on an island that is frequently marred by natural disasters. After more than 18 months of planning and coordination with funders, local partners and governments, Barefoot College has brought its signature Solar Mama training program to Puerto Rico.
“This project has been two years in the making,” says Rodrigo Paris, Director of Latin America for Barefoot College. “This collaborative partnership applies our proven approach to training women as solar engineers so they can share with their communities the badly needed solutions for disaster recovery and energy resilience.”