Madagascar’s ‘solar grandmothers’ lead a renewable revolution

Women at training at India's Barefoot College

In the small village of Ambakivao, Madagascar, a group of women have stepped up to become their community’s first solar engineers. These volunteers—dubbed the solar grandmothers—are working to bring electricity to nearly 200 families in their village.

Traditionally, their community used petroleum lamps for lighting their homes. Now they have implemented solar lamps for lighting and other household tasks. The use of solar energy reduces pollution and the community’s overall footprint.

“Women often lack courage where I'm from so I want to tell them: be courageous and be strong. Don't be afraid and take your responsibilities whatever your burden or load because it's better to be in charge and discover new things”

Solar engineering program graduate

Remeza, Kingeline, Yollande and Hanitra are all part of WWF’s access to sustainable energy program managed in collaboration with India’s Barefoot College. The four women joined women from several other countries for a six-month training in India in applied solar technology. Most women joining the program leave their country, sometimes their native regions or villages, for the first time in their lives.

Along with technical training, the program also brings new economic and leadership opportunities for the women. “We are here to learn solar engineering,” says Hanitra. “It's a men thing back there in Mabolo. But here, the ones mastering it are women. It's thrilling to see that women and men, we can do it equally.”

The training is intended for women from remote villages in developing countries but communities participate—and benefit—too. Volunteer applicants for the training are chosen at a village meeting. The village also elects a solar committee to run the administrative, social and financial aspects of the solar program and ensure its financial sustainability.

“I really feel that everything we've learned here will be good for where we're from. It's innovative and so crucial for our village and our living,” says Yollande. “From what I've seen here in India, the women are getting the job done.”

The Barefoot College is an Indian training center that develops simple, sustainable solutions to the challenges of rural life including access to clean water, education, health care, and the use of renewable energy. Since 2012, WWF has partnered with the college, Indian and Malagasy governments and several additional international institutions on the solar engineering program.