Faculty-Student Team Explores Collaboration in India

A team of Merrimack College students and faculty members traveled to Tilonia, Rajasthan, India over spring break to explore potential collaboration between Barefoot College and Merrimack.

The team will share their experience with the campus community at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 in Cascia Hall. Those who attend will have an opportunity to listen and learn while sampling Indian food.

The Merrimack team was invited to observe the project on solar electrification, one of Barefoot’s main activities in which women, from around the globe, with little formal education, known as “Solar Mamas,” are trained to install and maintain solar lighting in their communities with no access to electricity.

Barefoot’s activities have expanded to address additional critical needs identified by the communities. These initiatives have included a night school to accommodate children who work during the day, water pumping facilities, and new economic opportunities for women.

Led by Ellen Fitzpatrick, the visiting scholar at Merrimack’s Interdisciplinary Institute, the team included Simona Sharoni, professor of women’s and gender studies and director of the Interdisciplinary Institute, and Elaine Ward, assistant professor of higher education. They were joined by Tiana Lawrence ’20, a double major in women’s and gender studies and English from Lowell, Mass., and Eden MacDougall ’20, an international studies major from Haverhill, Mass.

The Merrimack team attended the graduation of Solar Mamas in the 21st cohort of the project. The group consisted of 60 women from 13 countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America who spent six months in Tilonia, receiving technical training as well as building their confidence as women leaders.

One of the major lessons the team came away with is the understanding that solar energy not only provides electricity and reduces carbon emissions, but can also be a catalyst to create employment, boost income and provide self-reliant solutions for village communities.

“The model used at Barefoot is unique for empowering people from the global south to participate in solving key problems in their communities rather than depending on outsiders from the global north to come to their rescue,” Fitzpatrick said.

Sharoni’s interest in the project involves the multiple opportunities it provides for collaboration: between Merrimack College and an international non-governmental organization, between faculty with different training and areas of expertise, and between faculty and students.

Ward was inspired by the mission of Barefoot College that fosters “confidence, competence, belief and aspirations that result in self-sufficiency and designing disruptions that influence unequal systems that stop the rural poor from achieving their dreams in education” and looks forward to helping Merrimack College undergraduate and graduate students learn from and engage with Barefoot through this model of learning.

For MacDougall, one of the highlights of the experience involved the opportunity to work closely with three faculty members, combining expertise in multiple fields of study from economics and global development to women’s and gender studies and education and community engagement.

“Being able to fully immerse myself into another culture, eating their traditional foods, communicating with women from across the globe,” were highlights for Lawrence.

Funding for the trip was provided by a gift to the School of Liberal Arts from Marguerite Kane, professor emerita of political science at Merrimack College, the Interdisciplinary Institute and the provost.


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