Solar Mamas: Ready To Become Agents of Change

Ten (10) women – Maria Mau, Elisabeth Tuwa, Agustina Bedha, Lidvina Dhaja, Petronela Ngeri, Wigberta Mbepa, Kristina Pai, Dominatris Suwo, Maria Hendrika Tea, and Hermina Dhongo – who hail from the villages of Tedamude, Tedakisa, Rendubutowe, Pagomogo and Makipaket in Nagekeo are now not only capable of assembling solar electrification devices but have also gained newfound confidence as they prepare to become agents of change in their respective villages.

They are the newly trained SOLAR MAMAS, joining the ranks of seven others from the previous batch of women who come from the same five villages in Nagekeo.

Making an Impact

Agustina Bheda and Petronela Ngeri, two solar mamas from the hamlet of Makipaket in Mbay II, said they now have additional activities aside from helping their husbands manage their small businesses. As they gained more knowledge and experience, they formed a women’s farmer group, utilizing the land owned by Agustina’s parents to plant various beans, vegetables, and other horticultural crops. 

This initiative did not simply come out of nowhere. Together with eight other solar mamas, they were determined to study to become Solar Technicians. This was the fruit of a continued collaboration between Barefoot College International and Wadah Foundation which granted 600 solar lighting units to the villages in Nagekeo. A total of 17 Solar Mamas (split into two batches) had been specially trained as solar technicians so that the solar lighting systems received would have an optimal impact, so as to prevent a repetition of previous experiences, where former solar lighting systems distributed failed to be maintained and thus rendered unusable.

The enterprising zeal of the solar mamas was also felt in Pagomogo, home of Mama Natris (Dominatris Suwo) and in Rendubutowe, the village of Mama Lin (Lidvina Dhaja). Now, aside from planting beans or weaving, they have other productive activities and they have even invited their husbands to work together with them. The success of the two women in inviting their partners to collaborate in the household is an extraordinary feat that cannot be underestimated, especially in the community of East Nusa Tenggara, which still has a solid patriarchal culture.

Learning by Doing

The solar electrification training did not merely focus on the skills and abilities of the technicians in assembling the solar units but also on character-building exercises and activities that would shape them to have a positive outlook, mindset, and perspective. This was the primary focus of the training which served as the foundation before the trainees embarked on the technical aspects of the solar electrification training.

The participatory and familial approach implemented in the training process brought out the inherent potential of the trainees. Their sharp minds and enthusiasm for learning made the whole process smooth and showed significant progress throughout the training.

In learning the theory aspect, the trainees showed great understanding of the material wherein each participant was able to present and explain the subject matter that was taught. Simply knowing the theory was not enough, however. To further establish the lessons taught, the trainers and the organizing committee gave each participant the task of sharing with the class the lessons they had learned and the skills they had acquired. Through this method, each participant was also enabling their fellow trainees to learn from them. 

Not everything was smooth sailing. The assembling process of the PCB Charge Controller on Day 8 of the training was met with challenges due to the delay in the arrival of base PCB components from India. This roadblock did not stop the training, however. Unhindered by the challenge faced, the trainers creatively used the previously sent components for the Rural Electronic Workshop (REW) and worked backward by uninstalling the charge controller. 

The trainees started their practical training by learning to uninstall/disassemble the components from the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) Charge Controller which was the most important part of the solar generator. The components were de-soldered to see and understand their functions and placements within the charge controller. This activity was done multiple times until the participants were comfortable enough in opening and assembling the components, and until they can finally complete five units each.

For Wadah Foundation, holding the solar electrification training for technicians in Indonesia is a new experience. Previously, the training was conducted in Tilonia, India, where Barefoot College International is located. Wadah had already sent to India a total of 25 Solar Mamas from Timor Tengah Selatan (TTS) Regency, Alor Regency, Sikka Regency and the previous seven Solar Mamas from Nagekeo Regency. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic which started in 2020, Wadah Foundation and Barefoot College collectively came up with a creative solution of holding the training in Indonesia, which was then suggested to the Regency Government of Nagekeo. As a favorable response, the Solar Technicians’ Training Program was included in the 2022 Work Plan of the Nagekeo Regency Government where they appointed Wadah Foundation as the organizer of the training as well as to prepare the training materials.

What made this training different from the one held in India was the presence of a male trainee – Paulus Ratu, a resident of Makipaket hamlet, in  Mbay II. Aside from that, the instructors of this training were not from Barefoot College in India but rather, a Barefoot Collage alumna, Rasmi from Nangahure, Wuring Lembah in Sikka, and one of her students, Gaudensius Botu, from Pomat Village, Wailiti, West Alok, Sikka. They served as the instructors for the technical aspects of the training while the soft skills session was led by the Wadah Foundation Operations team.

Emotional Support

During the training, visitation from the staff of Transmigration and Manpower Agency, the Regent, and the Vice Regent of Nagekeo, together with their spouses, brought much excitement and emotional support to the participants. They could not even fathom the fact that the first and second highest officers in the Regency of Nagekeo would come to visit them during their training. Such an experience gave the trainees added confidence and pride that their training with Wadah had given them the opportunity to speak and come face-to-face with the highest-ranking officers in the regency, which they had only thought was possible in their wildest dreams. 

Aside from the Nagekeo government, Wadah Foundation and Barefoot College International also conveyed their full support of the program albeit virtually. Such presence might seem minor and insignificant but for the trainees, such attention and care had such great impact mentally and, on their confidence, that reflected in their performance throughout the training.

The committee, trainers, and trainees also took advantage of the weekends to visit and go on sightseeing trips to gain more insight, knowledge, and experience. For Mama Lin and Mama Natris (trainees), who live in the mountains, going to the beach and stepping on the sand for the first time, was such an unforgettable experience. For those who have lived most of their lives in the mountains, the sight of beaches and the seas only existed in stories and pictures.

Apart from visiting the beach, the participants also visited fishponds, tomato and chili gardens, and mushroom cultivation sites. Through such visits, it is hoped that each participant would gain more knowledge and insight, and if they so wish, be inspired to start their own agricultural and cultivation business, as well as find other opportunities which they can manage in their respective villages.

The Solar Electrification Training for Technicians was held at Valensof Hotel in Nagekeo Regency, East Nusa Tenggara, from June 23  – July 27, 2022.

Author: Nyoman Arya Subamia

Editor: Paula Stella Nova Landowero


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