Think of all the things you use every day that require electricity. From the time you wake up, until you go to bed, and even while you sleep, electricity powers your life in so many ways. Now, imagine life without it, not just during a power outage, but electricity being non-existent in your community or your home. This is unheard of in America, but in many other parts of the world, millions of people do not have access to electricity.
Two Randolph EMC linemen recently participated in a trip to the country of Bolivia in South America and brought electricity to homes that never had it before.
From April 27 through May 14, 13 lineworkers from seven N.C. electric cooperatives, including REMC, joined forces to bring first-time electricity — and new opportunities — to a remote village in Bolivia thanks to the Brighter World Initiative. The Brighter World Initiative was coordinated through NRECA International, a national cooperative philanthropic group that has brought electricity to more than 160 million people in 44 developing countries since 1962. Funding for this initiative was supported by all 26 N.C. electric cooperatives, the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives (NCAEC), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and a financial lender, the Cooperative Finance Corporation.
I want to give you a little insight into the place that our men spent almost 24 hours traveling to. At an elevation of 11,600 feet, Laphía is in a mountainous region of Cochabamba located between the capital city of La Paz and the city of Santa Cruz within Bolivia. Its villagers live in clay/straw dwellings and farm potatoes and onions. Prior to the completion of the project, they used kerosene lights, candles and battery-powered lanterns for light and were some of about 285,000 people in Cochabamba without electricity.
The most challenging terrain included crossing a 2,000-foot ravine. Tim said, “In the first day alone, we pulled about 8,000 feet of line through the ravine. You don’t realize how heavy that wire is until you don’t have a reel truck. We only had two Toyota pick-up trucks to help us with transporting materials and getting lunch to line workers.”
Joining the volunteer team from Randolph EMC was Journeyman Foreman Dennis Kidd and Journeyman Lineman Tim Williamson, both from our Robbins office. During their time in Bolivia, the volunteer team built about five miles of power line to connect more than 75 buildings to electricity. Most of the work, including pulling long spans of wire and lifting heavy transformers, was done by hand, as access to trucks and machinery was limited. “In this day and time, it’s easy to take for granted the materials and supplies we have access to work with that make our jobs much easier on a daily basis,” said Tim Williamson. “On this trip, we went back to our roots — those roots that were sowed back in 1939. We climbed the poles with traditional gear and used pure manpower for pulling lines and putting up transformers. We definitely got our work-out in,” he added.
The language barrier was bridged by local translators, which our crews were extremely grateful for. The volunteer team was also joined by Randy White, Job Training & Safety Specialist with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, who provided additional support for all local villagers and line workers who had to navigate through coarse terrain. Safety was always the top priority throughout all the work being performed. The most challenging terrain included crossing a 2,000-foot ravine. Tim said, “In the first day alone, we pulled about 8,000 feet of line through the ravine. You don’t realize how heavy that wire is until you don’t have a reel truck. We only had two Toyota pick-up trucks to help us with transporting materials and getting lunch to line workers.”
While sharing stories from the trip, Dennis Kidd said, “Many of the villagers were so eager to have electricity that they were willing to move their current homes if they were in the way of where power poles needed to go. They had been waiting for the construction of bringing electricity to their town for over 10 years and they wanted to do everything they could to make that possible.”
He added, “villagers were building their own meter bases. They had a meter mold and would make their own. As construction progressed, all the villagers would haul the meter base molds on their motorcycles or even on their backs to make sure they were where they needed to be for power.” Tim and Dennis said that if they had to guess, the villagers probably made anywhere from 60-80 bases during the two weeks the volunteer crews were there.
It’s hard to imagine what our lives would be like today if we still didn’t have electricity. Our very own linemen got to experience what that’s like first hand from this small village. I commend Dennis and Tim and all other volunteers a part of the Brighter World Initiative for their dedication to this mission, hard work, time spent away from their families and the selfless acts of service they provided to complete strangers.
At the completion of the 18-day project, Dennis and Tim joined other volunteers, local leaders and community members for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration. Co-op volunteers shared gifts of school supplies, books and soccer balls with the local children. Cheers, applause and fireworks rang out when the volunteer crew leader flipped the switch to illuminate light bulbs throughout the school building for the first time.
I can’t thank all the volunteers enough for the extraordinary service they provided — from the planning stages at home, to the volunteers working in the village. This act is truly the meaning of what being a cooperative is all about and I’m proud to support a mission that works to further illuminate our world.
If you see our linemen out and about, especially Dennis or Tim, please help me in thanking them for their hard work and participation in this initiative. We’ve included some photos from their trip on the next page, but we’ll be sharing even more stories and photos on Facebook. Take a moment to follow Randolph EMC’s page and keep an eye out for more updates from the Brighter World Initiative.
Dale F. Lambert
Chief Executive Officer
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