Nicholas Kristof: how a “Barefoot College” is Empowering Some of the Least Powerful in India

[NOTE: Nick Kristof was one of the New York Times’s most intrepid foreign correspondents, reporting from one far distant, demanding locale after another for 37 years, as often writing from obscure, out-of-the-spotlight places as from front-page hotspots.  He was also notoriously upbeat and public-spirited, always digging for signs of hope and even tiny green shoots of progress in some of the most troubled places. Along the way, he collected not one but two Pulitzer prizes.

In 2021, Kristof left the Times, in order to make a run for governor in Oregon, where he had grown up on a fruit farm, and had since maintained strong ties during his globe-trotting career.  He said he felt it was time for him to actually help make change for the better, instead of only writing about it.

But his plans for a 2022 campaign were derailed when state officials barred him from the ballot, on grounds he had not been a resident there long enough.

Oh well. Now Kristof is back on track, reporting from faraway places about little-known but positive projects.

Thank goodness. In these weeks of wallowing in the bottomless pools of ex-presidential sleaze, and obsessing about “imminent” indictments that month after month have yet to arrive, his voice is a refreshing breeze, at least for me.

Now you can breathe deep too, at least til the next bummer blockbuster is dropped in us.]


Women in colorful saris in front of green and white lamps, circuit boards and equipment sit on both sides of a table in a room with dim sunlight passing through windows.
Credit…Photographs by Smita Sharma for The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

TILONIA, India — It’s the Harvard of rural India, minus wingtips or heels: a 50-year-old institution called Barefoot College that offers lessons for empowering people worldwide. Maybe even in America.

Barefoot College does empowerment as well as any institution I’ve ever seen, and here’s what that looks like in the rural state of Rajasthan: An illiterate woman named Chota Devi who never attended a day of school is hunched over a circuit board, carefully using color-coded instructions to solder resistors and diodes into place.

Chota, who has no idea how old she is, is a Dalit, those at the bottom of the caste system once known as untouchables, and from a particularly low-ranking group called the Valmiki who often cleaned human waste.

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