討論逐字稿: Barefoot College

We're discussing Bunker Roy's TED talk.

Discussion Transcript:
What did you notice from this video?
They are all women and children in the school, and no men.
And this situation is totally contrary to the traditional Indian world.
Why does the speaker call the women grandmothers?
That's a function of that women have children earlier, in India.
At around 50 or 60 they're already grandmothers.
You were in India.
Most of the become grandmothrs when they're 45 or 50?
Around 50, yes.
Yeah, if they have children at 20 years old, then their daughters have children at 20 years old, so 40 or 45 they'll become grandmothers.
I found that they use solar electricity, it's more popular than in Taiwan.
India is very big, and has little infrastructure, it's hard, not physcially, but governmentally, to do it.
Before I saw this video, I thought about solar energy, places like India and Africa, they have so much sun, but no electricity. So I thought about this problem, and I started searching on the internet, and they said solar is very expensive, and the gov't doesn't subsidise, and I wondered how much this costs.
In another video, Bunker Roy said the cost of the service is 5 dollars per household per month.
And the start up costs?
I don't know. But it can't be that big in real terms, looking at the machines they put in.
So I was amazed by this, I didn't know someone was doing this, and spreading this to other countries.
And he's spreading it to Afganistan, and I thought, the freaking US military cannot do what he's doing. Also, i like that he thinks of ways around the way they limit women. You know, as a concession he brought their husbands, and then says, 'Of course the women were far more intelligent than the men.' Ha.
Concession is what you give up to reach a compromise. A compromise is an agreement where you give something up so that you can reach the agreement.

What did you have an emotional reaction from this video? What amazed you? Shocked you? Made you joyful?
The solar energy made me very happy. Because I feel like, there is somebody doing this, and this is, because I think, in my opinion, it's the best energy.
There's no explosive stuff sitting around your house, no smoke, there's nothing that will run out! You don't have to keep buying fuel.
There's no waste! With oil, there's waste, with nuclear, there's waste.

When I went to india, they told me women can only work as gov't officials, or traffic officers. They cannot be a waitress, for instance, because they will be surrounded by men.
So they cannot work as a teacher?
I'm not sure.
So its unusual for india, to let women and grandmothers work on solar energy?
Any kind of mechanical work, I think.

You know, what I appreciate most is Bunker Roy's attitude. This is not the first organization I've found that recognizes that the best way to effectively combat poverty is to work with the women. But he doesn't treat it like it's something amazing and counter-intuitive, like 'what the women, wow, amazing, why does that work?' He clearly just sees it as facts on the ground. Of course it's the women who're the ones to work with. Women invest in their communities, women make things work. Everyone else is like, 'Wow, women are human beings too? What an amazing unknowable fact!'

I was wondering, after the women go back, they have changed, and what do the husbands think?
I do too.
There will be a lot of divorce!
You cannot control the grandma!
Success story.
"Where's your husband?" "It doesn't matter!"
So that means, maybe a year ago they thought the husband is the center of their life, but after they become solar engineers, they are more independent, and they learn how to work, how to earn money or something, so it doesn't matter where their husband is.

What is the basic understanding of Bunker Roy about how to effectively empower people to improve their lives and eradicate poverty?
Confidence, because those children, for instance, they let those children participate in elections, so they feel they have power to control their lives.
I think the point is not elections so much as that they gave the children leaders real power. I mean, we had student gov't in my high school but I didn't bother with it because you could see they didn't have any real responsibility for things that actually mattered.
So they let the children feel that they are responsible for their own lives.

The other thing is, he thinks words are not the central means to teach someone. This assumption makes things not so challenge for people to try new things, I think.
And he's teaching engineering without a common language, he's proving it.
And when we go abroad we have to take a TOEFL test or something, we need a language proof.
It's a challenge for us to take on this kind of problem abroad, because we are not so familiar with the language.

Decentralization. Because now their in a lot of countries, why there is such a gap between rich and poor is because of centralization, and under-the-table activity/dealings. And so the gov’t is in charge of the water the oil and so on, and the poor people don't get electricity, don't get water, and so, this school teaches the local people to build it themeselves, locally.
he says listen to people! You know, and it's not easy, really. But listen to the people in the actual situation, they have the solutions.
He says don't listen to world bank.
He says, don't listen to people in ivory towers, listen to the poeple on the ground.
Most of the people in government are in ivory towers.
Because the gov’t comes from people from the ivy league.
The ivy-covered ivory towers!
Ma Yingjiu graduated from Harvard.

What is Bunker Roy saying that is contrary to the usual messages we hear about women, especially poor women?
Poor women from developing countries usually have a lot of children, and their only responsiblity is staying home.
And taking care of the household
Yeah, but these women are solar engineers, and it's even more advanced than the developed countries.
And they are illiterate! They are illiterate, but they are solar engineers.
I'm not even a solar engineer.
You know, I'm always thinking, if solar energy is that good, why don't we just mass produce the solar panels to make it cheaper for us to be able to afford it.
That's what i was thinking for the last few months

Yeah, so how do we make it something that people want to do? Because I feel like Taiwan used to do things, like everyone just figured it out for themselves from the ground up, but now we wait for big projects to be built by the government. And now DIY means messing around with stuff that doesn't really do anything important. How do we get it so that everyone starts building like solar and wind energy on their roofs? You know, if everyone started generating power for themselves we probably wouldn't need the fourth nuclear power plant!
I think you would need good marketing skills. Because taiwanese people like to follow fashion. We ride bicycles now because of that movie.
If there wasn't that movie, people would seldom ride bicylces.
What's the name of that movie?
Can't remember!
It's a young boy ride his bicycle around the island. They have a slogan, "if you don't do things right now, you'll never do it."
So we need a movie that makes DIY wind power sexy.
And solar
Well, it doesn't work so well in Taipei.
But in the south! And it will work better in the south, because there's less population.
And in the mountains too.
I think one of the reasons taiwan didn't develop solar power is becuase electricity...
So cheap!
...has been one of the cheapest in the world.
And why is that?
The KMT government understands the wisdom of having a happy popluation. Cheap electricity cheap food health care, means people let the gov't do whatever it wants in other areas.
But that's stupid, because the electricity price goes up and everyone's angry!
I'm not saying they're long-term smart!

What is Bunker Roy's ultimate goal?
He doesn't really say it, but what do you thinK?
Improving everyone's life in india, and make india more devoped
And more democratic, I think
And get poeple out of poverty.
Tell poeple that you don't have to have education to have a good life.

"School is learning, reading and writing. Education is what you learn from the family, the environment and the community." -Bunker Roy
Yeah, I totally agree.

If we use this statement as a standard of measure, what is the education being received by Taiwanese students?
You mean, 'what skills'?
Yeah, what skills are being passed along, what worldview?
For some student that compare how smart they are, it's the most important thing in their lives.
That's what they're told every day.
They're just memorizing machines.
They care about their rank too much.
Well actually that's the problem of parents.
If you drop two ranks in the past months, then you'll be punished.
No, but positively as well, what is the culture passing along?
To obey the rules
Be positive!
Well, you can be negative, too.
To be competitive. Because all teachers and parents tell their children, you need to do better than others. And they compare their children with others' children all day, every day.
It's true.
When I was young, my parents always tell me that, if you don't work and study hard, some people in mainland china will take your place
I think, nowadays, the parents are sending their children to all kinds of schools, even for sports or for any kind of discipline, and I feel like, they think education can only be received in school.
They think they have nothing to teach their children themselves?
'They' means parents?
You know, I think they are lazy parents. Because, you just send your kids out of your house and you have free time for yourself. There are lots of parents like this, they just don't want to be with their kids, they think kids are a burden.
Sometimes, they just trust the professional teacher more than their self.
So that's a confidence problem.
Actually we were just discussion this on wednesday, how people here are always looking for outside expertise.
You know, what kids need, the most important thing kids need is to be with their parents. But now they're out of their house for over 12 hours a day.
Why do kids need their parents?
Just like what he said, education is from the family, the community.
Even if you just read stories to your kids, it's better than sending them to a cram school, Just read to them!
Because children are taking like violin class or whatever, and their whole day is full, and the only kind of education they get is receiving information from a teacher, and they don't develop other kinds of skills.
Well, they have television and internet.
I would say television is like teachers, but internet is more interactive.

"One lesson we learned in India was men are untrainable. Men are restless, men are ambitious, men are compulsively mobile, and they all want a certificate. All across the globe, you have this tendency of men wanting a certificate. Why? Because they want to leave the village and go to a city, looking for a job. [If your goal is education in the villages, you need people to stay at the villages to improve them, not run off. Also, they've found that women invest in their families and improvments, men keep the money to spend on themselves.] So we came up with a great solution: train grandmothers."
In the film Barefoot College Solar Technology, Bunker Roy says it with more detail:
"We've come to the sad conclusion that men are untrainable. They expect too much, they are restless, if they're young, they're impatient, they ask even before the training starts if they will get a certificate, and they will use that certificate to get the worst job possible in a city, whereas if you take middle aged grandmothers to be trained, I don't have that problem, of migration [to the cities]."
The narrator continues: "Women not only don't leave their rural homes, they also more reliably bring money back to their families, says Sarkim Musara (sp?). "When women work, there is at least some food and something to drink, and we can take care of the family. And we can even get our hair done with the extra money. But when a man works, maybe he will bring home money, and maybe he won't. "

That's not only men in India. It's something that happens all over the world, I guess. I mean, 'men are untrainable', this happens all over the world.
But why?
Untrainable, why?
It's hard for men to change, but it's easier for women to Yhange, and adopt new things.
yeah, maybe men have more self-confidence.
More self-pride
Pride, okay, so they find it hard to change.
Sometimes maybe because they are more ambitious, they want to earn big money, they are not so, they cannot be satisfiied by, maybe...
This tiny tiny acheivement!
...but actually it's not tiny.
But those men think they just build tiny machines, not a complicated plant.
I really wish there was some men here today, like my boss, I want to hear his opinion.
Actually, i was talking with your coworker yesterday, and told her what Bunker Roy said, and he heard what i was saying, and he looked at me nodded his head with a grin.
I think men are less patient, they don't want to take a long time to learn new things, or focus on those tiny parts.
But in taiwan, it's a stereotype that men become engineers, physicists and chemists
Not just in taiwan.
So your sister is a special example of this.
And I have a high school classmate that's a physics phd, a female.
Marie Curie
Well Marie Curie was chemistry, but yeah.
Yeah, but she was an exceptionalized women. I mean the culture holds her up that she was special, she was Marie Curie you understand! She could do it because she was special. They say this after the fact, and make you feel like, well only she could do it. But in her lifetime she had to fight to do science, and her husband was credited for her work for a long time.

"So we went to Afghanistan for the first time, and we picked three women and said, "We want to take them to India." They said, "Impossible. They don't even go out of their rooms, and you want to take them to India." I said, "I'll make a concession. I'll take the husbands along as well." So I took the husbands along. Of course, the women were much more intelligent than the men. In six months, how do we train these women? Sign language. You don't choose the written word. You don't choose the spoken word. You use sign language. And in six months they can become solar engineers. They go back and solar-electrify their own village."

"Gambia: we went to select a grandmother in Gambia. Went to this village. I knew which woman I would like to take. The community got together and said, "Take these two women." I said, "No, I want to take this woman." They said, "Why? She doesn't know the language. You don't know her." I said, "I like the body language. I like the way she speaks." "Difficult husband; not possible." Called the husband, the husband came, swaggering, politician, mobile in his hand. "Not possible." "Why not?" "The woman, look how beautiful she is." I said, "Yeah, she is very beautiful." "What happens if she runs off with an Indian man?" That was his biggest fear. I said, "She'll be happy. She'll ring you up on the mobile." She went like a grandmother and came back like a tiger. She walked out of the plane and spoke to the whole press as if she was a veteran. She handled the national press, and she was a star. And when I went back six months later, I said, "Where's your husband?" "Oh, somewhere. It doesn't matter." (Laughter) Success story."

This amazes me. The husband's biggest concern was controlling the sexuality of the woman. For this, he was willing to sacrifice the education of another human being, and all the contributions she could make to the commuinity as an educated person, and all the benefit the community could have of her. He wants to control her like property instead of asking her to respect him as a human being.
But men can have sex with others
That's because the men are not so confident, he thinks he's stupider than his wife and one day his wife will reject him
He thinks of the wife as an object, he owns the wife.
And the thing is, even with 'modern' men, I think they still subconsciously think of us as objects, because the culture still treats us as objects in many ways.

"Narrator: Roy says the key to sustaining rural jobs and development is to bring in technology that can be managed by the local community, like solar lanterns, and technology that's familiar, like rainwater collectors. ... The foundation of everything Roy does is decentralization. It's a departure from the typical approach of aid agencies, which he says want to bring in big infrastructure and ideas created by outside experts.
Roy: Any technology that brings in dependency, is not a technology that will work."

Like the gov’t builds the electricity system and we depend on them for that.
And if they build a kind of energy source we don't want, we still can't do anything about it. Like they're building the nuclear plant even though we don't want it.
Because the gov’t is in an ivory tower, so if we depend on gov’t, the technology will not work.
But we chose them!
We're not really choosing them. It's not like we looked around the community and said, ok, who's the best person for the job. A couple of people are selected by those in power for us to choose from, and it's like who do you want more, Dumbass A or Dumbass B? W're not really choosing someone who's the best for the job!
So maybe such policy is not so difficult, but the gov’t thinks it is difficult, so it's difficult!

Why do you suppose aid agencies and also gov't would rather work with big, centralized infrastructure?
What do you mean?

Like the world bank, like building a port to bring in oil and a pipeline?
I think that's similar to the strategy of 7-11.
Please explain.
Because if I, if there is a lot of 7-11 in my community, then it's easier to for me to reach some products, something I need. And it's easier for people to get the things they need. But if we have only one location to store all the necessary products, then we need more, it's harder to transport the products to everywhere.
Are you saying that it's like going to costco? It's a lot of trouble to get there, and you have to store so much in your house, instead of buying it as you need? Like 7-11 is decentralized and Costco is centralized?

Maybe because the big infrastructure is easier to control.
Oh! I think that's a good point.
Gov’t only needs to focus on central infrastructure. Because if they decentralized, they might need to pay more attention, or take more efforts to control this diversity.
Also, if the gov’t is distributing money, it's harder to keep track of finances. Maybe you could do it without distributing money.
And aid agencies have a lot a corruption.
Yes, it's a huge problem.
Yeah, when you donate money to an organization, you need to look at their financial statement. How much do they spend on 'adminstrative overhead', and how much is actually spent on the people they're supposedly helping.

Concluding Statements
It's amazing to see a lot of women, or grandmothers, can become solar engineers in india or south africa. Because I thought that solar engineering is a very difficult project, but these people really do it, and may be distributed all over the place. And I'm very happy to hear someone saying that women are very smart, and men are untrainable, this makes me really happy.

I only have one thing to say. I sometimes think we women think of ourselves as too small. We think we cannot do things, we cannot accomplish big enough things. But all we need to accomplish is a small tiny thing, which adds up to a big thing.

I think the Indian women are so lucky, because Bunker Roy has provide some chance for the women to learn to be solar engineers, even though they are illiterate. In Taiwan, I think we don't have such problems, beause we are not illiterate. But actually, the position of women is still a little bit lower than men, but it seems over time we can improve this. So I think we are lucky, in this area.

I'm really cheered up by those grandmothers and mothers and those children. They really did acheive a lot of mission impossible, or what we think women cannot do. For instance they not only build solar machines, they also build the water collection plant. Those things in the past, people think that's the world of men. But actually these grandmother, they make success. So there's nothing we can't acheive as women. We just do whatever we can do. And one day we can live by ourself, like the women in the video, "My husband? It doesn't matter."

Things like water, necessities like these, in the past, they were around us, and poeple everyone had access to these things. And over time, these things were controlled by the government or anyway people could not pay for the bills or whatever, and then, but water, it should be for everyone, and not controlled by a private company.
And, I think the government makes this system to complicated, and builds the nuclear plant, an whatever, and it causes pollution, but in the video, they create these things which are so simple, and it doesn't need any complicated system, or doesn't cause any pollution.


  1. That was quick, Angela! :)

    I would like to clarify what I said about the women can only be government officials part.
    It is true that I was told women can only become government officials, and woman do jobs like waitresses or shopkeepers, so it was quite interesting for me to see male shopkeepers selling female clothes in a modern mall, and absolutely no single female walking around in the mall (except me, of course). The only females were accompanied by their husbands. Anyway, why can women only become government officials, my guess would be, maybe because a job as an official gives authority to the woman, and that can make her more equal to the men?

    Other than the usual discrimination we think of, I think it could be to "protect" women from being exposed to the outside.
    Because the metros in the capital, New Delhi, are quite different in this regard. They are very modern, using exactly the same system as the MRT in Taipei.
    But what is different is besides the mixed male and female carriages, the front carriage (or back one, I forget) is only reserved for females. No men can get on that carriage. Of course, you can choose to get on the mixed carriages if you want, but lots of people would find it more comfortable being in the female carriage. I asked an Indian why do they have this special carriage, and I was told it's to protect the women from harassment. I guess, since working females are already quite less in India, the special carriage provides a safe place for them, from sexual harassment from men. In a way, this is quite advanced, isn't it?

    Now, from my memory of India, I did see female teachers, probably because teachers are considerably surrounded by the same people every day, especially since they're surrounded by children. So it's considered ok.

  2. I'm sorry, typo in second sentence:
    woman cannot do jobs like waitresses...

  3. Ha, yes, it seems that if I want you for people to leave comments on the discussion I'd better get the transcript up right away....

    On to the points you made. I feel like women are probably given jobs in gov't so as to show that they're a democracy by Western standards or something. You know, equality on paper. Or, token equality for educated women. But the private sector's choices shows where the culture's choices really lie, meaning, women are to be kept in the home, dependent on men for income and other things. If you can't get a simple job as a shopkeeper, how do you leave your husband and still provide for yourself?

    I don't know if having separate carriages for women shows advancement. Wouldn't advancement be having enlightened men who treated women like women and not sexual objects with no personal agency? Meaning, they would treat women with the same respect as men, treat them as people, and not molest them on trains, just as they would not molest a man on a train.

  4. I think that's a very good point! (about the government jobs) I didn't think of that!!

    About your last paragraph, I doubt that the world of respect between the two sexes would ever come..... I think it's the fact that "sex" (as the activity) is distorted in modern society. Instead of being the union of two people who love each other, it has become a way of showing control towards the female.

  5. You know, I agree with you on that. Sex is very often seen as a power struggle or a means to control the other. This is especially how its presented in media, in basic cultural narratives.
    And the thing is, sex can be an expression of mutual joy-in-the-other, it can be a means of intensifying intimacy and love, and strengthen a relationship.
    I don't know, maybe that's why our official narratives are not about that, because control and domination suit hierarchy so much better.
    I guess we just need to have more egalitarian sex, ha!