Barefoot’s Gandhian Approach

Since its inception, the long term objective of the Barefoot College has been to work with marginalized, exploited, and impoverished rural poor, living on less than $1 a day, and lift them over the poverty line with dignity and self-respect. The dream was to establish a rural college in India that was built by and exclusively for the poor.

What the rural, impoverished and marginalised think important is reflected and internalised in the beliefs of the College. The Barefoot College is one of the few places in India where Mahatma Gandhi’s spirit of service and thoughts on sustainability, are still alive and respected.

The College has adopted the Gandhian ideas into its lifestyle and work ethics, holding it true and relevant universally even in the 21st Century.Gandhiji’s central belief was that the knowledge, skills and wisdom found in villages should be used for its development before getting skills from outside. The College has applied rural traditional knowledge and skills to build homes for the homeless, collect rain water in rural schools and community where potable water sources are scarce, as well as to spread socio-economic messages at the grassroot level through puppetry. Only technologies that can be understood and controlled by rural community have been introduced to improve the quality of life of the poor.

Gandhi believed that sophisticated technology should be used in rural India, but it should be in the hands and in control of the poor communities so that they are not dependent or exploited. The Barefoot College has demystified technologies and decentralised their uses by transferring the access, control, management and ownership of sophisticated technologies to rural men and women, who can barely read and write. The College believes that even uneducated poor have the right to use technologies to improve their life and skills.

Gandhi once said that there is a difference between Literacy and Education. The Barefoot College believes that ‘literacy’ is what one acquires in school, but ‘education’ is what one gains from family, traditions, culture, environment and personal experiences. Both are important for individual growth. At the College, everyone is considered an education resource, the teacher as well as the student and the literate as well as illiterate. Therefore, the Barefoot College is a radical departure from the traditional concept of a ‘college’.

Gandhi believed in the equality of women. The Barefoot College has struggled to train village women, in areas that have traditionally been dominated by men. Since 1972, more than 6,525 unassuming housewives, mothers & grandmothers, midwives, farmers, daily wage labourers and small shopkeepers, who represent the profile of rural women from poor agricultural communities, have been trained as Barefoot midwives, handpump mechanics, solar engineers, artisans, weavers, balsevika (crèche teachers), parabolic solar cooker engineers, FM radio operators and fabricators, dentist, masons, and day and night school teachers. Women who are single mothers, middle-aged, divorced, physically challenged or illiterate are prioritised for training over others because they need the employment opportunity and income the most.


Why Barefoot?

  • It is symbolic of the recognition, respect, and importance the College gives to the collective knowledge and skill that the poor have;
  • By calling it ‘barefoot’ we want to give its application a unique category of its own that is superior, sophisticated, and enduring. Far more valuable than any other paper qualification.

Why College?

Because it is a Centre for learning, with a difference:-

  • A center of learning and unlearning
  • Where the teacher is the learner and the learner a teacher
  • Where everyone is expected to keep an open mind, try new and crazy ideas, make mistakes and try again
  • Where even those who have no degrees are welcome to come, work and learn
  • Where those are accepted who are not eligible for even the lowest government jobs
  • Where no certificates, degrees, or diplomas are given.


The Barefoot College was the born out of practical experience and people’s action. It was not inspired by books or by the theories of academics or practitioners based in urban areas. It was the result of hours of work in the villages, weeks of meeting ordinary people who wanted to get together and live and work in a village. No ideological learnings of any kind, no costly survey to decide what to do, no assistance from the traditional, well-established voluntary movements of India. Whether the Gandhian, the Sarvodaya, the Christian or the Ramakrishna Mission, the Barefoot College wanted to break away from the ‘social work tradition’ among groups oriented to social action.

Many people who had started projects earlier did not give this non-professional approach much of a chance. The Barefoot College was, in fact, taking calculated risks on a number of fronts:


It was all oriented towards People’s Action. No project plan was designed in advance, no clear time schedule, no detailed programme activities, no organizational and administrative arrangements, project staff, or physical inputs. The Barefoot College let the organization grow as a process where human beings and their development, confidence, and personal growth meant more and mattered more. The investment was more in people than in projects. This has been the first priority. No recruitment through advertisement but by word of mouth and by trial and error.

History of the SWRC/Barefoot Campus

SWRC located itself in an old TB sanatorium built by the American missionaries in the early 1900s, which they abandoned in the 40’s of the last century. This 45-acre complex of buildings and land , was taken over by the government and rented to the SWRC at 1 rupee a month from 1972 till very recently, when SWRC purchased the land from the government. This is called the old campus.

In 1977, the College acquired 8 acres of land to build its new campus in Tilonia. The campus was built between 1980 and 1986. It was designed by a team of rural Barefoot architects, masons, blacksmiths, farmers and members of women groups who sat and struggled through the basic designing of the campus.

There is a strange part of the campus which evokes curiosity. The fighter jet- Marut- that has come to spend its old age to atone for its violent days! In penitence and without its engine, it remains a source of great interest and joy to the children. The SW Air Command of the Indian Air Force and Air Marshal Dey’s generosity is much appreciated by the children.

Bhanwarjat, an illiterate famer from Tilonia was given the responsibility to construct the 30,000 square feet college campus. Working along with 12 other “barefoot engineers”, it took three years of them to complete the campus (1986-1989). Only low-cost building materials were used: no cement, wood, only plywood (hard board), lime, sand, chipped rock and stone.

Rafiq a village blacksmith, fabricated the doors, fames and windows. Using Buckminister Fuller’s design, he has fabricated and installed over 150 geodesic domes out of scrap metal, to be used as schools, dispensaries, telephone booths, community centers, and meeting places for village women.

Since rural people have been building their own houses for generations, without consulting any urban architects, the College thought it was best to utilise the knowledge and skills that the locals already possessed to conceptualise and design a campus that was comfortable and acceptable to its rural staff. As no one had any formal training, no architectural drawings were referred to for building, all plans of the campus were drawn and re-drawn on the ground, as the design evolved and changed.

All details of design from the windows, doors and roofing, to the drainage system, height of the buildings and layout of the rooms have been designed by Barefoot architects. They have drawn on their experiences in construction of houses to provide sufficient air, light, water and open space for everyone who live and worked in the College.

Residence Blocks were designed as per minimum needs of living space including a kitchen, toilet and a courtyard needed for a village community.Location of doors, windows and ventilators were designed to optimise movement of air and ventilation, and at the same time avoid the direct load of beams, girders and roof on the walls for preventing the buildings from collapsing.Traditional Roof making technique was adapted wherein earthen cups are inverted on stone slabs to create permanent air gaps for keeping the rooms warm during winter and cool during summer, making it perfectly suitable for the tropical climate in Rajasthan.

The women specially prepared a mixture jaggery, methi (fenugreek) powder and fibres of jute in lime, by pounding and curing the mixture for 3 days, before applying it on the roofs to make it leak-proof.Windows and Doors were designed and fabricated in-house by Barefoot mechanical engineers who decided all details from shape to the size of the windows and doors. Door and window frames were made of scrap metal in order to prevent wood from being used for construction.All rooftops were designed to be connected one underground water tank with the capacity to collect 400,000 litres of rain water. This tank was constructed under an amphitheatre to utilise the space more efficiently. An overflow from the tank was designed to be directed to open wells.

Today, the Barefoot College new campus in Tilonia exists as a lush green campus with a number of trees and independent water sources such as hand-pumps and rainwater harvesting tanks. It reminds one of an oasis in a desert. It is the first, fully solar electrified campus located in rural India. 135 kilowatt of over 400 solar modules each generating 330Wp with 5 battery bankscontaining 720 batteries each 240 Volts  provide power for more 32 computers, 17 IPads, 8 Laptops than 500 lights,  120 fans, a photocopying machine, that work in a hospital, a dental clinic and pathology lab, a library, a marketing centre for selling handicrafts, a centre training illiterate rural men and women to solar electrify their own villages, a traditional media centre holding puppet shows and a communication centre inclusive of screen printing, film editing and audio-visual facilities, a phone booth and milk booth. All modules and electrical connections have been installed and are being maintained by Barefoot solar engineers, who have never been through more than 10 years of rural school.


First Wave of COVID-19 (Hunger-Relief)

Hunger-free villages:
Hunger relief efforts were desperately required due to the situation during the COVID-19 lockdown
where the daily wage laborers, migrant workers, woman and child with no source of livelihood,
living in remote villages and slums were left without any food and savings. As a response to this
humanitarian crisis, Barefoot College took the initiative to distribute essentials for survival that
these affected poor families and individuals needs at the very minimum to tide over the crisis and to
remain hunger-free. Working in collaboration with the Rajasthan government, Barefoot College
identified the genuinely needy and distributed survival kits to them to ensure hunger-free villages.
With the help of generous donations from donors like you our relief work from April 2020 to
September 2020 reached out directly to more than 57,000 individual beneficiaries with 13,800
ready-to-eat food packets and 12,375 survival kits indirectly benefitting over 800,000 people in
over 550 villages (and slums) across 11 districts of Rajasthan.
In addition, we reached out to over 2800 children with over 325,000 packets of ‘Super 5’
nutritional supplement as part of our Children Nutrition program that would help strengthen the
children’s immune system, especially during the pandemic. Barefoot College’s in-house whole
foods nutritional supplement ‘Super 5’ is made from 5 locally sourced ingredients – Chickpea,
groundnuts, sesame seeds, jaggery and wheat. It helps in reducing anaemia and fighting
malnourishment, especially in children. Barefoot College’s Super5 production unit has the
government’s FSSAI license.
The relief efforts of Barefoot College generated over 650 livelihoods for needy women.
Barefoot College also supported Grain Banks in over 20 villages of the states of Rajasthan and
Madhya Pradesh directly benefitting over 4000 beneficiaries.
The survival kits mentioned above consists of the following essential items that would last for 15
days for a family of five:
#Food ItemsQuantity
1Wheat Flour20kg
3Cooking Oil1 litre
5Ground Chilli Powder250 gms
6Ground Turmeric100 gms
9FSSAI Licensed Whole Food Nutritional Supplement (Super 5)1.25kg (50x25g sachets)


In addition to the food relief, our survival kits also include personal protective kits that contain recommended reusable cloth face masks, sanitizers, soaps along with sanitary napkins for females to aid the needy individuals protect themselves  from potential harmful infections.

#Personal Protective ItemsQuantity
1Face masks5
3Bar soap1
4Sanitary Napkin1 packet of 6 napkins each