Like most villagers, they farm their own vegetables like sweet potato and tapioca to eat and occasionally feed the leftovers to the free-range chickens and pigs running around the lush, green hills between the sparsely populated village punctuated with log bridges around the Magandai river.They prepare dinner using the dim glow of a diesel lamp, and retire early most nights.

On Sundays, they go to the church atop a grassy hill, which offers a stunning view of the vast surrounding land.The village, though picturesque, is cut off from most basic necessities like electricity, water, health care and education, mainly because it takes at least a five-hour bone-rattling drive to the nearest village of Kota Marudu — and that is only with the elements of daylight and good weather.The long, arduous trek out to the town is made only when absolutely necessary, or when villagers have business to attend to.

Each trip out of the village on a chartered four-wheel-drive vehicle costs about RM40 each way.It is this remoteness, inaccessibility and poverty that has qualified the village for this “Grandma Solar Engineer” programme from Barefoot College, a non-governmental organisation based in western India that helps empower marginalised women worldwide and gives them a boost to drive their local village economy in a sustainable way.

The village of Sonsogun Magandai in northern Sabah is a five-hour drive through rough terrains from Kota Marudu, October 4, 2014. — Picture courtesy of Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals AssociationThe village of Sonsogun Magandai in northern Sabah is a five-hour drive through rough terrains from Kota Marudu, October 4, 2014.

The programme, running since 2004, teaches illiterate older women from rural communities how to fabricate, install, repair and maintain solar lighting units.They will learn how to handle sophisticated charge controllers, to install solar panels and link them to batteries and to build solar lanterns and later assemble and install such units in their own villages.

With local partners Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals Association SWEPA, Asian Forestry Company Sabah AFCS, Raleigh International, Partners of Community Organisations in Sabah, GEF Small Grants Programme — UNDP, Sabah Credit Corporation and the state and federal governments, the Barefoot Solar Project identified the village and three grandmothers to be part of the project.

The two other potential participants had to drop out for health and personal reasons.“I’m just so grateful that I get to have this experience, even after the other ladies dropped out. I’m sure they will regret not taking the opportunity.

READ MORE —> The barefoot ‘solar engineer’: An illiterate grandma’s journey to save her Sabah village | Malaysia | Mobile | The Malay Mail Online.

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