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ARC Home > Projects > Sacred gifts :
Rural women’s aid

INDIA: Rural women trained in literacy, health and conservation

Update, December 2010:

This year saw the Barli Development Institute celebrate its 25th anniversary and a year-long calendar celebration is currently in full flow. Beginning in July 2010, the events are scheduled until May 2011: for a timetable, please click here. The work of the Barli institute was one of the Sacred Gifts recognized at the ARC-WWF Kathmandu Celebration in 2000.

Founders Jimmy and Janak McGillligan estimate that 5000 women from 500 villages have received training from either the original centre, or one of its three extensions across Kanker. In 2008, Oscar Fernandes, the Union Minister of Labour from the Indian Government, awarded the institute the Harmony Foundation Indore’s Jewels of Service for its Commendable Service to Society. The following year, Indore’s Centre for Environment, Protection, Research and Development granted Barli their Environmental Friend Award.

Solar Cookers

In 1998, a solar cooker was installed in Barli’s kitchen using technology developed by German scientist Dr Dieter Seifert. This cooker allows 80% of daily food output to be resourcefully cooked for 250 days of the year: this saves three kilos of gas or 24 kilos of wood each day.

In 2003, the success of this cooker inspired the Institution to train village craftsmen to replicate this technology. Now other NGOs and establishments in the area are benefitting from this ecological way of supporting the community.

300 orphans in a Dhar orphanage have been supported by their new solar cooker and a further 500 tribal children have been catered for across the town of Jhabua in the Madhya Pradish. Over 400 villagers have been given the opportunity to take this technology home with them by attending training sessions that teach them how to use the solar cookers to cook in a domestic environment. They can also dry vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices in preparation for times when supplies are short. Much of this produce can be taken from the Institute’s three-acre organic garden.

Women have expressed their relief at the introduction of solar cookers into the home. When they gathered timber to fuel their conventional ovens and fires, they were frequently attacked and raped in the forests. Now, they no longer have to face this reality.

With their “zero-waste” policy, Barli Institute is making huge improvements in resource consumption both in the kitchen and the broader community.

World Environment Day 2010

June 2010 hosted the annual World Environment Day, but with a silver anniversary to celebrate, Barli extended festivities into a five day event. This year’s topic, “Many Species. One Planet. One future” looked to the future and 121 women from 57 rural and tribal villages gathered to discuss sustainable development within the community and the environment.

Talks included:
  • Water sanitation;
  • Reforestry;
  • Alternative energy sources such as solar power;
  • Recycling;
  • Health and nutrition.

The ceremony also culminated in the graduation of this year’s students as well as updates from previous graduates. Many success stories were shared, inspiring Barli Development Institute’s new graduates and current students to put their knowledge to practical use.


The majority of students at Barli have never been to school and the training offered, free of charge, at Barli Development Institute is a rare opportunity for women to access education. Mrs McGilligan reports that the average pass result for students of the Institute who have never attended school is 85%. Ultimately, though, whether students pass or fail, they still leave the institution with greater insight and understanding of environmental and community issues than they started with.

Since 1999, new courses lasting up to six months have been held twice a year for residential students. The programme of study covers in-depth exploration of:
  • Caring for the environment: agriculture and horticulture; learning to plant, maintain and protect trees and crops; sourcing seeds and plants; composting and vermiculture; water, soil, biodegradable material and waste management.
  • Literacy;
  • Gender sensitisation;
  • Personal and social development: how to plan and develop initiatives that will benefit the community. These have often led to the launch of independently supported development schemes within the community and the environment.
  • Village and rural health and hygiene: preventative and practical solutions to water-disease; the importance of immunisation;
  • Pre and post natal care: caring for pregnant women; dealing with pregnancy in the social environment; child disease; the importance of registering births and deaths; the role of the mother and of the family;
  • Women’s reproductive health: the physiology of conception and symptoms of pregnancy; the importance of immunisation; giving birth safely; breast feeding;
  • Caring for the sick or elderly

Graduates can then go on to complete a further year-long Grassroots Trainers course to qualify them in teaching, enabling them to take their knowledge home and spread awareness across India. These individuals have had a massive impact on the environment, health and education levels of their homes.


Barli Development Institute

The Barli Development Institute for Rural Women, near Indore in Central India, gives indigenous women training in literacy, agriculture, health, income–generation, and environmental conservation.

The group – which was inspired by Bahá’í social activism – was established as an independent entity in September 2001, and was offered as a Sacred Gift in 2002.

Since 1985 the Institute and its forerunner have trained more than 1,300 women as “social change agents” since 1985. The trainees learn conservation strategies through practical action. Rainwater is harvested and stored, washing water is reused for irrigation. Gardens tended by the trainees provide most of the Institute’s food. Trainees prepare meals using state-of-the-art solar cookers; some become ‘experts’ able to support solar cookers in their own villages.

The curriculum includes hygiene and sanitation, child–care and nutrition, and vocational skills such as tailoring, fabric design, and computing. And the programme stresses spiritual principles including the oneness of humanity, equality of women and men, respect for diversity, and service to the community.

When they return home after training, 99% of graduates are literate; 97% use safe drinking water; 96% use their income generation skills to provide for their families.

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Sacred Gifts found on other ARC project pages:

Cambodian pagodas
Daoist medicines
Synagogues audit
Sikh sustainable energy
City monastery reborn
Church climate action
Power & Light ministry

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