Electric Co-op Volunteers Energize Bolivian Village
More than 300 families in Northern Bolivia have spent the past months discovering life-changing ways electricity can be used in their homes, thanks to the efforts of 15 electric cooperative volunteers. Through the NRECA International Foundation, a team of volunteer linemen and engineers from Oklahoma’s and Missouri’s electric cooperatives joined forces to electrify two villages in northern Bolivia, working from August 1–14.
Roanoke Electric Cooperative CEO Curtis Wynn traveled to Bolivia to witness the lighting ceremony through his role as NRECA board secretary-treasurer.
“It is an eye-opening event to see people who live without electricity get it for the first time,” Wynn said.
The project team worked in two communities, Dos de Junio and El Torito, located in a region where the economy is driven by Amazonian almonds, Brazil nuts, tropical timber, rubber and exotic fruits. Project team members built and upgraded approximately 10 miles of line, bringing power to 360 families. The volunteers also wired a number of houses.
“I had the opportunity to meet some of the linemen who personally poured themselves into the project, and I had the opportunity to really see the culture, including signs of poverty and struggles of the people,” Wynn said. “More importantly, I had the opportunity to see what the provision of electricity can and will do for those citizens.”
The new infrastructure will be maintained by the local electric cooperative, Cooperativa Eléctrica Riberalta (CER), which also serves the nearby city of Riberalta. CER is one of the few electric service cooperatives to survive the Bolivian electric market restructuring in the 1990s, and now serves 18,000 member-owners with 85 percent of the residential owners living in an urbanized area and 45 percent in suburbs. Ongoing technical assistance, education and support provided to CER by NRECA International is allowing the cooperative to improve and expand its electric grid to ensure the area’s sustainability and economic vitality.
“What’s going on down there is no different than what electric cooperatives did and what we will continue to be as our communities’ economic development engines,” Wynn said. “This is a reminder to me of the economic development opportunities we have here — what can we do next to help further communities? It’s a reminder of what our role is as cooperatives.”