Fatma: ‘Take one thing… and use it!’

For most of her life, Fatma knew much about her very small village in the rainforest of Zanzibar and virtually nothing about life beyond. She lived as expected, marrying young, raising a family and doing her best to make a better life for her kids despite the abject generational poverty familiar to everyone in her small village.

But life changed dramatically when Fatma had the courage to accept an invitation to travel to Barefoot College in India and learn to become a solar engineer.

“First I was Fatma, a housewife. Now you can say Fatma, solar engineer. You can say, Fatma Solar trainer. You can say Mama Fatma.”

Solar Mama Fatma. It’s a title of utmost respect for the woman with endless energy, joy, and confidence who has since risen to become a master trainer at the Zanzibar regional training center. Fatma has now traveled to remote countries — like a recent visit to the Yakutia region of Siberia — to help train the next generation of Solar Mamas.

This passion for teaching and for helping her village caught the attention of Flip The Switch Director Dave Moutray.

“My camera kept finding her,” he said.

Leadership is like that, it attracts, much like Mama Fatma does in her at work at the regional training centre and when traveling abroad.

Mama Fatma’s diminutive stature (she’s barely 5′ tall) and the humble cultural dress does nothing to diminish her obvious leadership position in a culture dominated by men. She speaks to the other Solar Mamas with clarity. They listen with respect. The teachings of one are passed to many, a clear example of what French President Emmanuel Macron said about Barefoot College’s Solar Mamas. “This is how you change the world,” he said. “You start a movement of transmission.”

And this is Fatma’s new understanding of the large world beyond her village.

“I tell people to take one thing from everywhere you go, and use it!” she says.

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