AMMAN — Two years ago, when two bedouin women returned from a six-month solar engineering training at the Barefoot College in India, their horizon looked bright and their dreams were about to come true.
At the age of 30, barely literate, with a fifth child on the way, Rafea Al Raja and her aunt Seiha Al Raja (Um Bader) were to return to their native Rawdat Al Bandan as “solar engineers” and start a training centre for other women as outlined in the project initiated by the Friends of Environment Society (FES).
That rosy scenario was aptly presented in the documentary
“Solar Mamas”, which was screened for the first time in Jordan on Friday, retelling how these two women fought their families’ and communities’ prerogatives to get an education and hopefully, a career in their remote desert village near the Iraqi border.
But after a long applause in the full-house Rainbow Theatre in Jabal Amman, the moved audience was hit by the bitter reality of how the project, and the women’s personal lives themselves, ended in shreds, mainly as a result of lack of funding.
“We are still not working and the training has not started either,” Rafea told The Jordan Times in an interview on Saturday.
They came with hope, she said, but this hope is fading away. The government, NGOs and international organisations are showing little or no interest, according to FES officials, leaving the project stranded in the desert.
“Now even our fellow villagers have started to make fun of us because they see nothing is happening on the ground,” said Rafea, who with her aunt were received with festive firing and an “official” ceremony upon their arrival from India.
The situation took a dramatic turn for both Rafea and Um Bader. Although they provided solar energy to 80 houses in the village, they are now facing the darkness of personal problems that have plighted them since they completed their training in India.
According to FES founder and president, Raouf Dabbas, some of the components of the project, worth $15,000, were stolen and sold on the black market allegedly by Um Bader’s son, who was also with them in India.
“He was in India, was trained along with the women and hoped to become the president of the solar engineering project when they returned,” the documentary director, Mona Eldaif, said.
“As it wasn’t happening, he lost faith and ruined all the women’s work, disrupting the systems and smuggling out components,” she told The Jordan Times.
Her son’s loyalty was not the only casualty Um Bader faced as a result of the pending solar engineering project.
“My husband could not accept that I would work so he divorced me and left me alone,” Um Bader said. “My other family members are trapped in Syria and I have nothing left, including this project.”
Rafea’s husband, although never having provided for his family, forbade his wife to work and went into the illegal business of smuggling, a move that landed him in prison, leaving his six-member family to fend for themselves.
All of this may have not happened if the project had received proper support, according to the people involved and their supporters.
“It would fulfil the dual goal of providing sustainable energy to the village and empower its women,” Dabbas told The Jordan Times, let alone that the project could be extended to the whole region.
“They [Al Raja women] have the ability to independently install and maintain solar-powered electricity, addressing two of Jordan’s main issues: renewable energy and female empowerment,” Dabbas said, adding: “Now, this whole project is threatened because no one is willing to finance it despite our repeated appeals to all existing institutions from the government to NGOs and embassies.”
Rafea may feel she has lost the project, but she has gained friends.
“I feel happy when I see Mona and Raouf, because, at least, I get a moral boost. “
For Eldaif, the experience is unusual and personal involvement is inevitable.
“Usually, when I make a movie, I finish it and get out of it as such,” Eldaif said, “but with these women I couldn’t do that. I have seen their suffering, their fight…and I will fight along with them until this project sees the light.”