Bunker Roy, founder of the Barefoot College in India, has been a critic of the “modernization” movement that swept India in the 70’s and 80’s, marginalizing and in some cases illegalizing the appropriate technologies that had developed over centuries to help rural people survive in the harsh climates of India.

One example Roy gives is the electric water pump.  The ancient cultures of India had developed very sophisticated means of harvesting, storing and distributing water, the most precious of resources. But when the electric pump was introduced, these appropriate water conservation technologies were dispensed with.  The pump promised to deliver fresh water to even the most inaccessible of mountain villages. 

Decades later, only 30% of the pumps work, and worse, many underground water tables no longer recharge in the hottest months of the year (the 3 months leading up to monsoon), so local village wells dry up forcing parents to take their children out of school and send them on day-long treks to fetch water.

The Barefoot College in rural Rajasthan is setting about to change all that.  Starting with just a few huts in the early 1970’s the campus has now grown to a sprawling 80,000 SF complex all built by local “barefoot” architects using traditional building technologies and materials.  Just a few years ago, the campus won the Aga Khan award for architectural excellence, but apparently the award had to be returned when they realized that no architect was involved!

Below is an excerpt from a much lengthier lecture given by Bunker Roy on PopTech. Here he explains how the Barefoot College brought back to life these old and reliable technologies and how they are spreading the technology to developing nations around the world:

The Barefoot College has implemented water catchment systems in over 150 schools, providing over 8.7 million gallons of potable water each year, and they have pioneered an innovative technique of recharging the water table through large open wells.

The Barefoot College also has an innovative solar program. They admit women from rural villages throughout India and train them to fabricate solar panels. To date, the college has solar-electrified over 350 villages in India and dozens more in Africa, Afghanistan and South America.

The Barefoot College brings technology to the village
Founder Bunker Roy brings back ancient water catchment systems to hundreds of villages.