Electric co-ops continue mission to light up Bolivia
Volunteers from electric cooperatives in Missouri continued the effort to light up Bolivia this winter through a project called Brighter Bolivia. In December six volunteer linemen, including Eric Peeper from NW Electric Power Cooperative, traveled to Bolivia to build power lines for those living without electricity.
The electrification project is made possible through a partnership between the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s International Program with matching funds from the Cooperative Finance Corporation.
The first phase of the project took place Dec. 3-16 in a mountainous region of Bolivia in the state of Cochabamba at Chapisirca. The region has a poverty rate of 60 percent and it is estimated that 285,000 people here do not have electricity. Those living in the mountain village grow potatoes to earn their living and farm using oxen. Their children must study by the light of candles.
The Brighter Bolivia team from Missouri was selected from among volunteers at electric cooperative systems around the state. Those selected for Phase 1 of the project were:
Casey Schwartze, Three Rivers Electric Cooperative, Linn
Danny Derry, Grundy Electric Cooperative, Trenton
Eric Peeper, NW Electric Power Cooperative, Cameron
Jared Kelley, SEMO Electric Cooperative, Sikeston
Jonathan Schussler, Osage Valley Electric Cooperative, Butler
Tim Gilbert, Boone Electric Cooperative, Columbia
Electric cooperatives in Missouri have sent volunteers to other countries in the past. This is the second time the state has made a coordinated group effort to bring electricity to unserved areas. In August 2016, a team traveled to Riberalta in the Amazon region of Bolivia to build power lines that now bring electricity to two small villages.
Other electric co-op linemen have volunteered to work in Haiti, Guatemala and South Sudan. Those who have volunteered in the past call it a “life-changing experience.”
Villagers from the Chapasirca community helped set dozens of poles and dug an estimated 100 holes to ensure they finally received electricity. When the second team completes its part of the project in late January and early February, the cooperative volunteers will have constructed 3.5 miles of power lines to serve Bolivians who currently live without electricity.
Many challenges faced the linemen, especially the 13,000-foot elevation. The weather proved difficult as well. It ranged from 38 degree temperatures to blazing sunlight, torrential downpours and strong wind. At times clouds would move in, reducing visibility to feet.
All of the work was done by hand with only the tools the men could bring with them. Trucks used to haul potatoes to market were pressed into service to string the wire. Poles were set using ropes and brute strength.
The villagers were excited to receive electricity. They told the volunteers they appreciated their efforts, showering them with confetti and giving each man a traditional Chulo hat woven from llama wool by the women in the village.
Worldwide, more than 1.6 billion people live without electricity. NRECA International seeks to brighten the lives of people in these developing nations by building power lines and donating equipment and materials that are no longer needed by U.S. electric cooperatives.
Past experience with these projects shows that electricity lets children attend school on a regular basis. It raises the standard of living for the entire family by lightening the burden for adults and providing running water, refrigeration and sanitation previously unavailable.
It also saves money for families that relied on expensive generators for just a few hours of power.
The original purpose of the International Program when it started in 1962 was to share lessons learned by U.S. electric cooperatives with those in developing nations. Over more than 50 years, the program has brought a better life to 110 million people.
You can learn more about the NRECA International at www.nrecainternational.coop.