Community Cinema film explores woman’s quest to attend India’s Barefoot Institute


HandsOn Kansas State organized a Community Cinema event for all students Monday in Town Hall, located in the Leadership Studies Building.

Community Cinema is an initiative featuring monthly screenings of Public Broadcasting Service films. The film featured on Monday night was “Solar Mamas,” from PBS’s “Women & Girls Lead” series. A short discussion over the topics within the movie followed the film.

The film followed a 30-year-old Jordanian woman with four daughters who traveled to India to learn about solar engineering at India’s Barefoot College, along with other women from Kenya, Burkina Faso, Colombia and Guatemala.

“Solar Mamas” explored the life of Rafea, a Bedouin woman living in a small Jordan village. The country’s Ministry for the Environment encourages her to leave her village to attend Barefoot College in India to train to become a solar energy engineer.

Rafea is the first from her country to attend the program. She hopes to bring her talents, intelligence and income back to her family and village. Her purpose is to make a change in her community by improving economics and well-being.

In the process, Rafea faces conflicts within her family about the benefit of her attendance. Rafea sets out to persuade the family that the training will help everyone including the village.

After two months of the program, Rafea’s husband asserts that she should consider coming home or he will divorce her and take her daughters. Rafea had also been struggling during school with being apart from her children. With no real choice, Rafea is forced back to her village to see her children and persuade her husband to let her continue her studies. 

As a result, Rafea decides to go back to school and finish the program with outstanding work. She returns as an educated women with the skills she has acquired and an ambition to earn an income for her family and to aid the community. She has the desire to make a difference with the opportunity presented.

The film addressed many issues, such as women as agents for change, solar power, Bedouin culture, foreign aid programs, education for women, international poverty reduction, cultural change and international economic opportunity.

“There were questions about the role of women and education especially in rural communities, because rural communities don’t have the same opportunities as women in urban areas,” said Mundia Chinonge, junior in food science. He explained the bonding between the international women in the program. 

Patrick Davis, freshman in wildlife and outdoor enterprise management, said he was moved by the flim’s portrayal of women who took advantage of the solar engineering program at the Barefoot Institute despite the disadvantage of living in a rural community. 

“I found it inspiring that the women in that village, which experiences poverty, are able to travel to India to learn about solar energy,” Davis said.

Davis said the fact that Rafea was able to learn an advanced curriculum despite coming such a small village with no educational opportunity encouraged him to further his education and take value in his schooling.

Though the event might have seen a bigger audience if the film had not been shown on Veteran’s Day, Lynda Bachelor, project coordinator for the School of Leadership Studies, said she was satisfied by the turnout and discussion of interested viewers.

“Even though it was a low attendance due to the holidays, I was satisfied because of the people that came because of interest of a topic of their concern, and they usually stay long enough to discuss the subject matters in which they feel comfortable,” Bachelor said.