Co-op Lineworkers Bring Electricity to Bolivian Villages
Fifteen volunteer electric cooperative lineworkers recently returned to the United States from Bolivia with heavier beards, weary eyes and thinner waistlines.
But what they left behind after two and a half weeks of hard labor will endure long after they trim their whiskers and catch up on their sleep.
The lineworkers brought electricity for the first time to 52 households across five communities in the Oruro region of the South American nation.
“I hope every cooperative member-consumer in our three-state region will be filled with as much pride as we are at what this team accomplished. We are approaching the holiday season and through their selfless efforts, they gave the best gift of all — the gift of light,” said Richard G. Johnstone Jr., president and CEO of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives.
Chief Lineman Bernie Hastings represented A&N Electric Cooperative on the project. Hastings has been with the cooperative form more than 12 years and currently oversees a construction crew.
The initiative, entitled “United We Light: Project Bolivia,” was sponsored by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives in conjunction with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s international unit and support from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp.
The lineworkers, representing eight electric cooperatives in the mid-Atlantic region, departed for Bolivia Sept. 4 and returned Sept. 21.
In addition to Hastings, the group included lineworkers from BARC Electric Cooperative, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Choptank Electric Cooperative, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative and Southside Electric Cooperative.
They labored in Third World conditions at altitudes of 13,000 feet, with few hot showers and minimal diets. But the gratitude that the villagers showed erased any hardships in the minds of the lineworkers.
“These people work hard. It’s amazing. They have nothing,” Hastings said of the villagers he met. “I hope that light bulb changes their future. You talk about education for youth. The cure for cancer might be in Bolivia in a village somewhere. Only time will tell, of course.”
The group’s work will have immediate benefits. One community is ready to install an electric well pump instead of retrieving water by hand. And one official hopes that the dawn of power will repopulate his village, where people have left in search of electric service.
“With the electricity grid that is being installed, people will come back,” Coniri Mayor Lorenzo Arroyo said through an interpreter. “We are so happy, we have no more word to say ‘Thank you.’”
Highlights of the trip are posted on the A&N Electric Cooperative Facebook page and the United We Light: Project Bolivia Facebook group.