by Kimi Sharma
As it was every Sunday morning, my e-mail inbox had been inundated with TED talks that my father thought would explore the untarnished brilliance of individuals in society and help incite my dormant passion to bring about change. I was expecting the usual group of talks by respected and inspiring doctors through which my father hinted at his burning desire for me to attend medical school despite my fervent rejection of the idea. So on that Sunday I watched a TED talk that largely reinstated my faith in an individual’s undying determination to aid others.
Sanjit “Bunker” Roy founded The Barefoot College on the grounds of self-sufficiency of a population now and into the future no matter what the background and abilities of the individual. While Roy came from a wealthy and well-educated background, he sought to create a place where those without the credentials, degrees or certificates could take part in the learning process to provide for themselves in the long run. Per request of those that the Barefoot College was to serve, Roy describes it as “a place of learning and unlearning: where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher.” He highlights the absence of anyone outside the community with a qualification or degree and praises the outstanding achievements of the communities where most are illiterate.
Bunker Roy implements the idea of the Barefoot College with, what I think, are the three major “axes of good” in the sphere of public health: community involvement, education of children and empowerment of women. Previous case studies of global health success stories have seen significant changes in communities in which these three areas are targeted. Most notably, the Uttaran program, in Bangladesh, provides a micro-loan to families to start businesses. They did so by involving and educating the community and by beginning the program with women. It has been shown that women tend to be more accepting of ideas, are more willing to learn, and have a tendency to teach others. I have confidence in the fact that women are vital resources for such programs.
As mentioned before, Bunker Roy enlists the people within the community to act as teachers and learners of varying skills even though most of them are not literate. They built the first Barefoot College with their own hands, innovated solar panels for lighting, cooking, etc and then became the teachers to others so they may learn. I truly believe that listening and utilizing the ideas of the community members made the college an immense success. Secondly, in these communities, it was common for the children to look after the animals during the day thereby, not being able to attend school. The education of children was therefore made possible through the widespread use of solar energy lights for night time classes. With the education of children, lasting beneficial effects of such programs have been noted. These include a shift in thinking and a breakdown of cultural barriers and tradition throughout generations. Lastly, the empowerment of women proves to be a formidable force in the ability to have a lasting effect on a community. The women in Tilonia quickly prove that being illiterate does not measure one’s success in life or ability to survive in the world. The dentist, a grandmother, and the Prime Minister, a twelve-year-old girl, of the village embody the power and strength of women to transcend barriers and serve as an integral part of the community. Roy realizes that teaching women of the communities to build solar lights will ensure its instruction and continuation through the years. His commitment to instilling confidence in the women has brought about self-sufficient communities that will continue to grow.
In my eyes, Bunker Roy embodies a public health “guru.” With three of the most influential public health weapons, he has revolutionized the idea of success in life and of survival through the innate and merely human qualities that everyone possesses. His patience, understanding and passion to aid the greater good have fueled a movement that continues to impact the poor and improve the standard of living in communities everywhere. Let the words of Bunker Roy resonate through our ears, “You don’t have to look for solutions outside. Look for solutions within. And listen to the people.”
Video Link: http://www.ted.com/talks/bunker_roy.html
- The Barefoot College: http://www.barefootcollege.org/
- Skolnik, Richard. Essentials of Global Health. 1st ed. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett, 2012. Print.
- Uttaran: http://www.uttaran.net/