KOTA KINABALU: After spending five months in India, grandmother Inggai Suging finally arrived in Sabah on Sunday (Feb 16), eager to adopt solar energy practices in her rural village in Ranau.
The 55-year-old, who is a mother of 12 and grandmother of 22, is the sole representative for the Barefoot Solar Project 3.0 by the Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals Association (SWEPA).
Before Inggai, three other "solar mamas" who were also illiterate from villages in the Kota Marudu district were trained at Barefoot College in Tilonia, India, in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
Barefoot Solar Project 3.0 was supported by CIMB Foundation, the Indian government, Barefoot College and Food for the Hungry International Sabah.
SWEPA president Lai Fui Nar, speaking at the homecoming ceremony for Inggai, said they had purposely chosen older women for the programme as they were less likely to leave their villages, and could sustain the sustainable solar system.
“Barefoot College, which helps rural communities by teaching practical knowledge and skills, has been known to use unique teaching methods such as alphabets and colours.
“Inggai also graduated top of her class, which had 52 participants from around the world including Botswana, Mexico, Egypt, Indonesia and Cameroon, among others.
“When she returns home, our first step would be to collect a small amount of money from each of the households in Kampung Paus, with about 100 homes and 750 villagers, for the solar system to be maintained,” said Lai.
Meanwhile, farmer Inggai said the project was a matter close to her heart as she remembered not pursuing her studies further after failing her exams as the village, located more than two hours drive from Ranau town, had no electricity for her to study at night.
“I do not wish for the same things for the youths of our village, I want them to be able to pursue their studies," she said.
According to her, her initial plan to go for the training had met criticism from other villagers who taunted her about facing dangers there, asking her not to go.
“But luckily, my husband and children were very supportive.
“Now all I think is about bringing a change for my village - I will form a committee that will look after the solar power project.
“I also picked up some business opportunity ideas in India and I plan to grow an organic fertiliser business for women entrepreneurs in my village,” said Inggai.
Asked about her biggest challenge during her training, Inggai said besides the language barrier where she used hand gestures to speak to locals as well as her foreign classmates, she also could not stand the cold weather there as well as the food.
Meanwhile, her daughters Jaritah Maul, 32, and Elcey Mimi Maul, 19, who surprised her during the homecoming celebration, said they kept in touch with their mother by phone calls more than once a month.
“We were worried how she would cope there but after a while, we knew she was all right,” said Elcey, the tenth of 12 siblings.
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