Film: Solar Mamas

Directed by Mona Eldaief418709_497712106924693_289074143_a-150x150

By Jacquelin Sonderling

In the most underprivileged areas of the world, it is still women who bear the brunt of poverty. They are illiterate, with a number of children to care for, and no means of earning an income. So how does a woman in these circumstances better herself and pave the way for a better life for her children? Indian social activist and educator Sanjit “Bunker” Roy has found a way—through Barefoot College, a school he established to teach women skills that will help them change their communities.

Solar Mamas focuses on the journey of Rafea, a 32-year-old mother of four with plenty of drive and determination. She’s the second wife of an unemployed husband, living in one of Jordan’s poorest desert villages. Selected to attend Barefoot College’s solar engineering program, she travels outside of her village for the first time. In India, she joins women from Guatemala, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Colombia. Over a six-month period, these women—most of whom can neither read nor write—will learn how to build and install simple solar-powered energy systems. This will enable them to create an income for themselves and jobs for others.

Barely into her training, Rafea’s controlling husband threatens to divorce her and take her children away if she doesn’t return home. And if she thought she would get support from the women of her village, she’s wrong. When Rafea tries to convince them of how life can improve for everyone, she is met with apathy and told that it’s best for women not to educate themselves.

Solar Mamas is part of Why Poverty?, a PBS’s Independent Lens series. It has no narration, allowing the viewer to become part of the experience. It is fascinating, inspiring and leaves you wanting more. And yes—you’ll be cheering Rafea on as she stands up to all the men—and women—in her village.

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