The starting point was marked when Sanjit Bunker Roy came face to face with a devastating famine that killed thousands in the Indian State of Bihar over 30 years ago, his vacation was suddenly sealed. It would not be in the city but in the countryside, it would not be in the upper echelons of the civil service but at the grassroots, with the village people.
Since 1972 Roy has been living in Tilonia, a village in one of the India largest, driest and poor state, Rajasthan, where he founded the Social work and Research Centre (SWRC): a voluntary foundation better known as the Barefoot College. “Barefoot” refers to the rural people and the poor in particular. The initial objectives of the project were to provide basic needs such as drinking water, health and education services, employment and energy to a population of some of 100000 people spread among more than 110 villages in Rajasthan desert state. Over the years the objective of Barefoot has become more oriented towards the use of traditional knowledge and skills by the local people in the villages around to develop their communities. The Barefoot College has set up 150 night schools in 89 villages for children who works during the day to help their families. To date, 15000 children have passed through these schools, where village culture, history and skills appropriate to the regional context are privileged subjects.
The project’s philosophy is based on the belief that villagers can identify and solve their own problems and people’s worth should be judged by their practical skills, not according to the paper qualifications they hold. This meant that the SWRC has developed a “barefoot approach”, in which the poor take care of their own knowledge systems and that is why the SWRC has come to be known as the Barefoot College.
The Barefoot’s success in bringing learning opportunities to isolated villages has influenced many programmes in other Indian states.
Mr. Roy who has devoted his life to reinforcement of voluntary work in Tilonia and for bettering the conditions of the rural poor and has been able to contribute to sustainable human development, through Barefoot college and its innovative work in the field of rural self-reliance and youth technical training.