Dagmar von Tschurtschenthaler and Barefoot College

Since 2009 Dagmar von Tschurtschenthaler has been focusing on projects in India; and since 2012 she has been supporting the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan. Visiting India regularly, Dagmar von Tschurtschenthaler is responsible for strategic planning and results-based reporting for the projects she runs in conjunction with Barefoot College.

Barefoot College

Barefoot College is a non-governmental organization that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable. These ‘Barefoot solutions’ can be broadly categorized into the delivery of Solar Electrification, Clean Water, Education, Livelihood Development, and Activism. With a geographic focus on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), we believe strongly in Empowering Women as agents of sustainable change.

The Barefoot College education programme is geared for overall development of rural children, and literacy is only a part of it. It is viewed as a radical departure from the traditional concept of a ‘college’ because it encourages hands-on or learning-by-doing process of gaining knowledge and skills, rather than imparting it through formal classroom teachings.

Lessons are focussed on raising awareness about the environment and the social-economic and political forces that dominate development. Achievement skills that guarantee a sustainable development in rural communities as well as literacy are considered important for an individual’s development.

The programme differentiated between ‘literacy’ that the children acquired through schools, and ‘education’ that the children gained from family, community, environment and personal experiences. Rather than imparting urban bookish knowledge that rural children could hardly relate to, practical examples were given from their immediate environment and lifestyle because they were familiar to them. Any rural child between the age of six months and 14 years, irrespective of caste, religion, gender or economic status, is eligible to join the programme in the capacity of a student.

Barefoot College funds evening classes for children from the Silora Block region of Rajasthan. The night schools are tailor-made for children who are not able to attend school during the day.

Here the children learn to read and to write and to do basic maths. They receive regular health checks, too. They also learn important life skills: how a bank or a post office functions, why clean drinking water is so important and how you care for and breed animals.

Barefoot College also runs a “bridge school”. This offers a one-year course to help 40 to 50 students at night schools transfer to a government school. During this year the boys and girls live together in a boarding house.

Here the children not only go to classes for formal lessons. They also acquire valuable social skills. By getting involved in the school’s decision-making processes and playing an active role in the day-to-day management of the school (eg. buying food), the students learn to understand their environment and to shape it.