Zanzibar — IT was a joyous moment for residents of Zanzibar, particularly women and government leaders led by President Ali Mohammed Shein when the first ever 'Barefoot Vocational Centre for solar power women engineers' was officially opened in Kibokwa village, North of Unguja Island.
Children and parents also joined together to celebrate the opening of the barefoot centre because they are now sure of having solar power lights, with courtesy of the Barefoot College in India which established a small branch in Zanzibar.
The centre will train illiterate and semi-illiterate middle aged women to become engineers in villages, and be able to fix homes with solar energy lights, just enough for enabling members of a particular house to see at night, particularly for students to study while at home.
Before the opening of the vocational centre, more than two hundred households in Kisiwapanza Small Island in Pemba, Kandwi, Mtende, and Makunduchi villages had already been fixed with solar power lights, a move that fuelled pressure for solar lights to reduce heavy reliance on wood and kerosene for fuel.
More households are set to have the solar power lights following the opening of the barefoot vocational centre to train more 'engineers' from villages still not connected to electricity from the national grid.
A total of 12 women from remote Zanzibar villages had six months training in India after the project was launched almost three years ago.
The graduated women engineers will now help train or share their skills with 12 new women enrolled at the new vocational training centre at Kibokwa.
The 'barefoot centre' in Zanzibar is also a result of Dr Shein's visit to the college in India in February last year. The well known Asian institution administration promised to establish small branches in Africa to help train women in rural areas to have skills for the simple technology to fix the solar power lights and the panels on top of the house roofs.
Zanzibar government, Barefoot College in India and UN women jointly worked together on the Isles Barefoot centre project anticipated to bring social and economical changes in rural areas.
The solar lights can also be used to charge mobile phones and provide light in small health clinics. President Shein thanked the Barefoot College in India and the UN-Women for supporting the establishment of the centre, saying the project has brought light and change to Zanzibar and beyond because "as the centre grows, women from neighbouring countries may come to study in Zanzibar."
Barefoot College is a non-governmental organisation that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.
These 'Barefoot solutions' can be broadly categorised into the delivery of solar electrification, clean water, education, livelihood development and activism.
"With a geographic focus on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), we believe strongly in Empowering Women as agents of sustainable change.
This is an opportunity for wmen in the villages of Zanzibar, and you should apply so that you can get training. If you are an engineer, then people in your respective villages can hire you to fix the lights.
Having light in houses also reduces poverty because children use light to study and parents use it in income generating activities," said Dr Shein.
He said although many areas on the Islands are already connected to power from the National Grid, there are still villages without electricity; therefore the solar power project by the women will help light homes as the government continues with rural electrification.
Dr Shein said that his government is determined to bring change to the people of Zanzibar as par Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) manifesto and other development programmes.
Ms Meagan Pallone, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Barefoot College said that the opening of a small branch of barefoot college in Zanzibar was important and would "help minimise costs and time for the training abroad (India), and more women would be trained to help in rural electrification."
She said that Barefoot is determined to build confidence among women in rural areas so that they are not left behind in this fast growing world of science and technology.
"Women have the opportunity to advance, they should work hard," she said. UN-Women Country Representative in Tanzania, Ms Anna Collins-Falk congratulated the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar on its leadership in supporting women's economic empowerment.
Ms Collins-Falk said: "I congratulate the government of Zanzibar and in particular the ministry responsible for empowerment, women and children development on its commitment to gender equality and women's empowerment by supporting this project as a sustainable solution for women's economic empowerment in Zanzibar."
She said at the colourful ceremony that investing in women's economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth.
She describes Barefoot Regional Vocational Centre in Zanzibar as, "an excellent example of women's economic empowerment within the broader sustainable development agenda, with a focus on green economics and climate change."
Ms Collins-Falk said that through installation and maintenance of solar electrification and other activities, the women are bringing light to their communities and a brighter future for themselves and their families.
She said UN-Women has partnered with 'Barefoot College India for the Women Light Up Africa project' in Tanzania and many countries in Africa since 2011 and is now supporting this training centre in Zanzibar.
A similar initiative, she said, is underway in mainland Tanzania where UN-Women is working with Barefoot College India and the Ministry of Community Development and Children to establish a Barefoot Solar Training Centre in the Folk Development College in Mtwara.
Ms Asha Abdalla Ali, the Principal Secretary (PS), Ministry of Empowerment, Cooperatives, Social Welfare, Youth, Women and Children said about 124m/- including 76m/- from the Isles government was spent on establishing the barefoot college in Zanzibar. UN Women contributed 48m/-.
She said the 12 women enrolled in the Barefoot in Zanzibar were selected from Mbuyutende and Bumbwini in Unguja Island, and Msuka and Makoongwe in Pemba, saying the new engineers would speed up electrification of the villages.
The Zanzibar barefoot centre will be led by Ms Josephine John Mhina- a solar power light engineer trained in India, who said she will use the skills she attained to train women in the Islands.
Ms Mwari Mkufu Salum from Matemwe village in North Unguja, one of the beneficiaries also thanked the UN-women for coordination and making the project successful. She said that the engineering skills will help women in villages change fast!
She said women with only basic elementary school like her or those who have never gone to school at all are given priority for the training of solar power electrification, and that the women have demonstrated capability and they are ready to change life in the villages by doing the installation.
"We organise equipment including solar panels, batteries and lamps. With availability of all required tools, installation takes about one hour in each house," Ms Salum said, adding that each household is entitled to have a solar panel, battery, and three lamps and a wire for charging mobile phone.
It is estimated that hundreds of households in Zanzibar villages, mainly in the North Unguja and north Pemba are still without electricity, and among them there are still those which have little chance of being connected to the power grid in the conventional way due to poverty and poor infrastructure.
Barefoot College has launched an initiative together with UN-Women in some countries to distribute, install and maintain household solar electrification and mini solar plants available for diagnostic clinics and maternal health centres.