Abject Poverty’s Worst Nightmare: Bunker Roy and Barefoot College

Abject Poverty’s Worst Nightmare: Bunker Roy and Barefoot College

The educational center only accepts the poorest of India’s rural poor.

They say the best way to communicate is not telephone, telegraph, or television, but to tell a woman.

Born into privilege and educated at a “snobbish” university that produces Prime Ministers and ambassadors, Sanjit “Bunker” Roy was well on his way to a life of hobnobbing with India’s elite ruling class at cocktail parties and cricket matches. He gave it all up in 1965 to become an unskilled laborer digging water wells in one of the country’s poorest villages. “I came into contact with the most extraordinary people,” says Roy. He dug for years before his deep-seeded need to help the poor compelled him to launch Barefoot College in 1972. “It’s a college where only the dropouts and the copouts and the wash-outs are invited,” says Roy. “Anyone who has degree and a qualification is disqualified from coming.” The solar-powered school trains the poorest of India’s poor to become “barefoot” water and solar engineers, architects, teachers, communicators, pathologists, midwives, IT workers, accountants, and marketing managers. “The approach of the Barefoot College is to take the sophisticated technology and bring it down to the common man who earns more than one dollar a day,” says Roy.

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