A woman is trained in Tilonia, India, by the Barefoot College to become a barefoot solar engineer.
A woman is trained in Tilonia, India, by the Barefoot College to become a barefoot solar engineer. - 

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: In recent years, India has made headlines by making and selling items smaller and cheaper. There's the $2,500 car and the $35 computer. The country is also home to a novel approach to low-cost solar power.

Reporter Raymond Thibodeaux takes us to the tiny village of Tiloniya.


RAYMOND THIBODEAUX: In this sunlit workshop, Tenzing Chonzom solders parts onto a device that regulates electrical currents. It'll eventually be connected to a solar panel, allowing it to power everything from lamps to laptops.

TENZING CHONZOM: I was chosen by my community to come here to learn about solar technology. I can take the knowledge back to the villages in the Himalayan foothills where I live. There, many people still don't have access to electricity.

Chonzom is 50 years old, and one of two dozen people being trained here as solar engineers. Most have had no formal education. It's all part of a program aimed at helping India's rural poor by teaching them to make and install low-cost solar panels. Then they teach others to do the same. It's called Barefoot College, and so far it has trained thousands. Sanjit Bunker Roy started the program.

SANJIT BUNKER ROY: You have to see how you can demystify the technology and bring it down to the community level so that they can manage, control and own the technology.

Roy is among Time Magazine's Top 100 most influential people for 2010. He says grassroots solar is crucial for India. Nearly half the country's rural population -- more than 300 million people -- has either no electricity or just a few hours of it a day. To help, Roy decided to tap into the local ingenuity he sees every day.

ROY: You'll find it everywhere in India, this infinite capacity to be able to improvise and fix things without having gone through any formal education.

Roy says Barefoot College merely provides the space for these Indian MacGyvers to develop skills and confidence to help improve their own communities. So far, the program has helped bring power to more than 450 rural villages.

In Tiloniya, I'm Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

CHIOTAKIS: To see pictures of Barefoot College trainees at work,
check out our website.