About a year ago, I went to a blogging workshop taught by my friend Britt Bravo.
The room was filled with wonderful women – artsy women with beautiful blogs, women writing for social change, women considering starting a blog…but just not sure.
Sitting in a cirlce, we introduced ourselves. Five or six people in, I heard a woman say, “I’m Paola Gianturco and…
What? Paola was here?!
I was 14 years old when my beloved childhood dance teacher opened up her photography book in class one day, before our wide eyes. The pictures showed craftswomen from all over the world. The photos emanated a mystery and grandeur that I still remember.
Then, over the years, again and again I’d hear women referring to Paola’s work documenting the unseen, hopeful truths about women’s lives.
After the blogging workshop, starstruck though I was, Paola and I got to talking. She told me her latest project was about Grandmother Power: the power of grandmothers and grandOthers – of all older women – to change the world.
Paola’s photos about Grandmother Power revealed a little known, world-wide phenomenon: activist groups of older women making positive change.
I decided that this would be the topic of my next blogging campaign, where I invite bloggers from around the world devote a day on their blogs to writing about an important big idea. (Some of you might remember when I did this in 2010-11 on The Girl Effect).
From today, May 7th, through May 14th, bloggers all around the world will be writing about Grandmother Power – about the unique power of all elder women. If you are a blogger, I really hope you’ll join us, and if you aren’t, I hope you’ll enjoy the reading some of the diverse posts – there are already more than 40 to check out!
Today, I want to share with you one remarkable Grandmother Power story, from Paola Gianturco’s Grandmother Power, from powerHouse Books.
You and I don’t think about it much, but light means everything to a community. Midwives can deliver babies at night. People can charge cell phones and preserve food in refrigerators. Children can do their homework without getting black lung disease from kerosene lamps.
But of course, many live without all of this.
Leaders at a college in India had an idea for a solution: they would teach young men to be solar engineers, hoping they would bring light to their rural villages.
The plan didn’t work: after they got their training, the men went straight to the city to find jobs, not back to the villages that so desperately needed their expertise.
The training program made a course correction: they invited village grandmothers to learn how to bring light to their communities.
The grandmothers were illiterate and existed on less than fifty cents a day but they were mature and gutsy, and wouldn’t dream of moving away from their grandchildren. After six months, the student grandmothers could build, install, repair and maintain solar lighting systems. They could assemble solar lanterns, solar water heaters and parabolic solar cookers.
The Indian grandmothers brought light to a whopping 9,833 households in 16 Indian states. Some stayed and became teachers for the grandmothers who took the training next.
The UN began sending grandmothers from other developing countries to learn from the Indian grandmothers. Together, grandmother solar engineers have brought solar electricity to 45,000 households in 64 countries in the Middle East, Africa, South America and Asia.
Grandmother solar engineers are VIPs in their communities. Bunker Roy, head of the Barefoot College where the training happens, said, “I meet them as grandmothers. But they return to their villages as tigers.”
The concept of Grandmother Power excites me for so many reasons. We see so much “Grandfather Power” – older, male power – in our society (think Congress, think the Fortune 500 CEO’s) and we see almost no older female power. We see a barage of media images of young women, and almost no images of older women. There has been a lot of conversation about empowering girls and younger women (women in their child-bearing years) in the developing world. There has not been much conversation about the impact of educating and empowering older women – and yet it’s clear the impact of that would be immense.
And, a Paola has taught me, there have never been so many healthy, educated, and economically empowered older women on the planet. This moment is unprecedented in terms of the potential for this group to lead change.
If you are a blogger, I hope you’ll write about Grandmother Power this week and join us in the campaign. (Lots of great writing prompts here)
If you’ve been thinking about starting a blog – hey, this is the time to start! You already have your first post topic! Get tips for writing your post here.
And if you are a reader, I hope you’ll join us in exploring the topic this week and in spreading the word about the campaign. You can browse the other Grandmother Power posts here – more and more will be added through the week.
For today, I invite you to consider: what does the phrase “Grandmother Power” mean to you?