From Tepu to Rajasthan: Indigenous Women Begin Training as Solar Providers

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On September 12, 2015, Anna Nantawi and Ketoera Aparaka, two indigenous women from Suriname’s remote rainforest interior, departed for India to begin a six-month solar power installation training course to benefit their community.  When the women return, they will be able to install, maintain and repair solar energy systems, and then train others to replicate their work.   The inspiring program is run by ACT’s NGO partner Barefoot College, whose students are exclusively rural women over the age of 35; over decades, thousands have received such training before Anna and Ketoera. 

For the 44-year-old Ketoera, the sharp transition began a full month earlier, when she—like Anna, a resident of the interior village of Tepu—visited Suriname’s capital city of Paramaribo for the first time; that was also her first trip on an aircraft.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs Niermala Badrising with Ketoera Aparaka, Anna Nantawi, and the director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ellen Naarendorp. Click to enlarge

So many people,” Ketoera laughingly described her first impression. “I was a bit afraid, but Anna and the people of ACT explained it to me. Now, I am not afraid anymore.  I like it in the city.”

The Trio and Akuriyo women’s time in the capital included a visit with ACT staff and an indigenous translator to Suriname’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The minister and director both greeted Anna and Ketoera, conveying that they were courageous and positive examples for women from the interior.   The ministry will follow the progress of the women through Suriname’s Embassy in New Delhi, and the women have a standing invitation from the ministry to report on their training upon their return.

The women also enjoyed a warm meeting with India’s ambassador to Suriname, Murugesan Subastini.

From left to right: her excellency Murugesan Subashini, Ambassador of the Republic of India, with Anna Natawi and Ketoera Aparaka.

“It is very important that women have a chance to develop themselves,” Ms. Subastini said.  “Many women have preceded you. Most of them could only speak their own language, but they finished the training successfully. There is now light in the villages of those women.”

At the ACT office, staff did their best prepare the pair for their journey, in part by showing films of the training context in India, with translation into their native Trio indigenous language and the Surinamese lingua franca Sranan tongo.  A few ACT staff also accompanied the women on the first leg of their travel, sharing in the excitement of this unprecedented exchange for the peoples of the interior. 

Anna Nantawi & Ketoera Aparaka ready to depart at the Johan Adolf Pengel airport in Suriname. Click to enlarge

Going forward, ACT will furnish one of the Tepu village structures as a workshop location to enable the women to develop their activities upon their return.  The process is much more than inspirational: the Tepu community currently depends on a generator powered by a limited and therefore unreliable quantity of government-provided oil; the generator also produces pollutants. 

“Solar energy is better for the village,” Anna explained. “It is very expensive to transport diesel fuel to the village because it must be transported by plane. And it often happens that we are in the dark for long periods.  Our children and grandchildren cannot study at night.”

The village of Tepu’s captain (lead official) Mozes reemphasized this point: “It is important for us to have electricity 24/7. This is possible with solar energy. We look forward to the moment that the two women will return with the knowledge. We are grateful to ACT that our village was given this opportunity.” 

More articles about the Barefoot College exchange:

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