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  • I'd like to take you to another world.

  • And I'd like to share

  • a 45 year-old love story

  • with the poor,

  • living on less than one dollar a day.

  • I went to a very elitist, snobbish,

  • expensive education in India,

  • and that almost destroyed me.

  • I was all set

  • to be a diplomat, teacher, doctor --

  • all laid out.

  • Then, I don't look it, but I was the Indian national squash champion

  • for three years.

  • (Laughter)

  • The whole world was laid out for me.

  • Everything was at my feet.

  • I could do nothing wrong.

  • And then I thought out of curiosity

  • I'd like to go and live and work

  • and just see what a village is like.

  • So in 1965,

  • I went to what was called the worst Bihar famine in India,

  • and I saw starvation, death,

  • people dying of hunger, for the first time.

  • It changed my life.

  • I came back home,

  • told my mother,

  • "I'd like to live and work in a village."

  • Mother went into a coma.

  • (Laughter)

  • "What is this?

  • The whole world is laid out for you, the best jobs are laid out for you,

  • and you want to go and work in a village?

  • I mean, is there something wrong with you?"

  • I said, "No, I've got the best eduction.

  • It made me think.

  • And I wanted to give something back

  • in my own way."

  • "What do you want to do in a village?

  • No job, no money,

  • no security, no prospect."

  • I said, "I want to live

  • and dig wells for five years."

  • "Dig wells for five years?

  • You went to the most expensive school and college in India,

  • and you want to dig wells for five years?"

  • She didn't speak to me for a very long time,

  • because she thought I'd let my family down.

  • But then,

  • I was exposed to the most extraordinary knowledge and skills

  • that very poor people have,

  • which are never brought into the mainstream --

  • which is never identified, respected,

  • applied on a large scale.

  • And I thought I'd start a Barefoot College --

  • college only for the poor.

  • What the poor thought was important

  • would be reflected in the college.

  • I went to this village for the first time.

  • Elders came to me

  • and said, "Are you running from the police?"

  • I said, "No."

  • (Laughter)

  • "You failed in your exam?"

  • I said, "No."

  • "You didn't get a government job?" I said, "No."

  • "What are you doing here?

  • Why are you here?

  • The education system in India

  • makes you look at Paris and New Delhi and Zurich;

  • what are you doing in this village?

  • Is there something wrong with you you're not telling us?"

  • I said, "No, I want to actually start a college

  • only for the poor.

  • What the poor thought was important would be reflected in the college."

  • So the elders gave me some very sound and profound advice.

  • They said, "Please,

  • don't bring anyone with a degree and qualification

  • into your college."

  • So it's the only college in India

  • where, if you should have a Ph.D. or a Master's,

  • you are disqualified to come.

  • You have to be a cop-out or a wash-out or a dropout

  • to come to our college.

  • You have to work with your hands.

  • You have to have a dignity of labor.

  • You have to show that you have a skill that you can offer to the community

  • and provide a service to the community.

  • So we started the Barefoot College,

  • and we redefined professionalism.

  • Who is a professional?

  • A professional is someone

  • who has a combination of competence,

  • confidence and belief.

  • A water diviner is a professional.

  • A traditional midwife

  • is a professional.

  • A traditional bone setter is a professional.

  • These are professionals all over the world.

  • You find them in any inaccessible village around the world.

  • And we thought that these people should come into the mainstream

  • and show that the knowledge and skills that they have

  • is universal.

  • It needs to be used, needs to be applied,

  • needs to be shown to the world outside --

  • that these knowledge and skills

  • are relevant even today.

  • So the college works

  • following the lifestyle and workstyle of Mahatma Gandhi.

  • You eat on the floor, you sleep on the floor, you work on the floor.

  • There are no contracts, no written contracts.

  • You can stay with me for 20 years, go tomorrow.

  • And no one can get more than $100 a month.

  • You come for the money, you don't come to Barefoot College.

  • You come for the work and the challenge,

  • you'll come to the Barefoot College.

  • That is where we want you to try crazy ideas.

  • Whatever idea you have, come and try it.

  • It doesn't matter if you fail.

  • Battered, bruised, you start again.

  • It's the only college where the teacher is the learner

  • and the learner is the teacher.

  • And it's the only college where we don't give a certificate.

  • You are certified by the community you serve.

  • You don't need a paper to hang on the wall

  • to show that you are an engineer.

  • So when I said that,

  • they said, "Well show us what is possible. What are you doing?

  • This is all mumbo-jumbo if you can't show it on the ground."

  • So we built the first Barefoot College

  • in 1986.

  • It was built by 12 Barefoot architects

  • who can't read and write,

  • built on $1.50 a sq. ft.

  • 150 people lived there, worked there.

  • They got the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2002.

  • But then they suspected, they thought there was an architect behind it.

  • I said, "Yes, they made the blueprints,

  • but the Barefoot architects actually constructed the college."

  • We are the only ones who actually returned the award for $50,000,

  • because they didn't believe us,

  • and we thought that they were actually casting aspersions

  • on the Barefoot architects of Tilonia.

  • I asked a forester --

  • high-powered, paper-qualified expert --

  • I said, "What can you build in this place?"

  • He had one look at the soil and said, "Forget it. No way.

  • Not even worth it.

  • No water, rocky soil."

  • I was in a bit of a spot.

  • And I said, "Okay, I'll go to the old man in village

  • and say, 'What should I grow in this spot?'"

  • He looked quietly at me and said,

  • "You build this, you build this, you put this, and it'll work."

  • This is what it looks like today.

  • Went to the roof,

  • and all the women said, "Clear out.

  • The men should clear out because we don't want to share this technology with the men.

  • This is waterproofing the roof."

  • (Laughter)

  • It is a bit of jaggery, a bit of urens

  • and a bit of other things I don't know.

  • But it actually doesn't leak.

  • Since 1986, it hasn't leaked.

  • This technology, the women will not share with the men.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's the only college

  • which is fully solar-electrified.

  • All the power comes from the sun.

  • 45 kilowatts of panels on the roof.

  • And everything works off the sun for the next 25 years.

  • So long as the sun shines,

  • we'll have no problem with power.

  • But the beauty is

  • that is was installed

  • by a priest, a Hindu priest,

  • who's only done eight years of primary schooling --

  • never been to school, never been to college.

  • He knows more about solar

  • than anyone I know anywhere in the world guaranteed.

  • Food, if you come to the Barefoot College,

  • is solar cooked.

  • But the people who fabricated that solar cooker

  • are women,

  • illiterate women,

  • who actually fabricate

  • the most sophisticated solar cooker.

  • It's a parabolic Scheffler solar cooker.

  • Unfortunately, they're almost half German,

  • they're so precise.

  • (Laughter)

  • You'll never find Indian women so precise.

  • Absolutely to the last inch,

  • they can make that cooker.

  • And we have 60 meals twice a day

  • of solar cooking.

  • We have a dentist --

  • she's a grandmother, illiterate, who's a dentist.

  • She actually looks after the teeth

  • of 7,000 children.

  • Barefoot technology:

  • this was 1986 -- no engineer, no architect thought of it --

  • but we are collecting rainwater from the roofs.

  • Very little water is wasted.

  • All the roofs are connected underground

  • to a 400,000 liter tank,

  • and no water is wasted.

  • If we have four years of drought, we still have water on the campus,

  • because we collect rainwater.

  • 60 percent of children don't go to school,

  • because they have to look after animals --

  • sheep, goats --

  • domestic chores.

  • So we thought of starting a school

  • at night for the children.

  • Because the night schools of Tilonia,

  • over 75,000 children have gone through these night schools.

  • Because it's for the convenience of the child;

  • it's not for the convenience of the teacher.

  • And what do we teach in these schools?

  • Democracy, citizenship,

  • how you should measure your land,

  • what you should do if you're arrested,

  • what you should do if your animal is sick.

  • This is what we teach in the night schools.

  • But all the schools are solar-lit.

  • Every five years

  • we have an election.

  • Between six to 14 year-old children

  • participate in a democratic process,

  • and they elect a prime minister.

  • The prime minister is 12 years old.

  • She looks after 20 goats in the morning,

  • but she's prime minister in the evening.

  • She has a cabinet,

  • a minister of education, a minister for energy, a minister for health.

  • And they actually monitor and supervise

  • 150 schools for 7,000 children.

  • She got the World's Children's Prize five years ago,

  • and she went to Sweden.

  • First time ever going out of her village.

  • Never seen Sweden.

  • Wasn't dazzled at all by what was happening.

  • And the Queen of Sweden, who's there,

  • turned to me and said, "Can you ask this child where she got her confidence from?

  • She's only 12 years old,

  • and she's not dazzled by anything."

  • And the girl, who's on her left,

  • turned to me and looked at the queen straight in the eye

  • and said, "Please tell her I'm the prime minister."

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Where the percentage of illiteracy is very high,

  • we use puppetry.

  • Puppets is the way we communicate.

  • You have Jokhim Chacha

  • who is 300 years old.

  • He is my psychoanalyst. He is my teacher.

  • He's my doctor. He's my lawyer.

  • He's my donor.

  • He actually raises money,

  • solves my disputes.

  • He solves my problems in the village.

  • If there's tension in the village,

  • if attendance at the schools goes down

  • and there's a friction between the teacher and the parent,