CFC and NCSC are proud to have helped fund a trip for 20 lineworkers from Colorado and Oklahoma to bring life-changing electricity to rural villagers in Central America. The 2019 trip to Guatemala was organized and supported by NRECA International and the Oklahoma and Colorado statewide associations, with nearly $100,000 in financial assistance from CFC and NCSC.

“Bringing the gift of electricity to those who live without it takes us back to our roots,” said Chris Meyers, general manager and CEO of the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC). “These projects bring opportunities for economic prosperity, access to better health care and education, enhanced safety and overall a higher quality of life. It’s rewarding to witness the lights coming on for the first time, just like it happened in rural America decades ago.”

This was OAEC’s third trip to Guatemala, and the second in partnership with Colorado cooperatives.

“When we traveled to these small rural villages, we were embraced by the villagers who live in very humble conditions,” said Kent Singer, executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association (CREA). “Bringing light to those in need is the true spirit of the electric cooperative mission.”

Lineworkers Change Life for Villagers

The lineworkers from Colorado and Oklahoma encountered difficult terrain as they ran wire without any heavy equipment to the village of Sillab in north-central Guatemala.

The team built 6.5 miles of line and set 40-plus poles to carry the wire up steep hills and across deep valleys. The team also installed four transformers and electrified 37 homes, a school and four churches. Each family invested in the project by installing a power pole outside their home. The linemen then connected and wired each home with two light switches, two electric outlets, and sockets for four light bulbs.

On the final day of the trip, the villagers held a ceremony to celebrate the lights coming on for the first time. The village leader expressed his gratitude to the lineworkers for all the benefits the community now will experience, including children doing homework at night, villagers completing early morning chores in well-lit safety, and families using small appliances and refrigeration to prepare and store food.

The Experience Is Life-Changing for Co-op Employees As Well

Overwhelmingly, the linemen agreed the trip was a life-changing experience and they would be happy to go back and do it all again. “I smile knowing that we made a difference in Sillab with a service that many people in America take for granted,” said Jerid Bruna of Southeast Colorado Power Association.

Bryan Kimminau with Alfalfa Electric Cooperative in Oklahoma recalled, “I was so impressed by the villagers. If something needs to be done, they cannot just get a machine to do it like we do, but they find a way to get it done and make it work. They carried 40 poles by hand in treacherous, hilly terrain. They’re the hardest-working people I have met.”

Rod Sherman from Colorado’s Holy Cross Energy related, “It’s so touching that our skills can do good like this. The second we turned the power on, it changed their lives for generations.”

Matching Grants Program Helps Pay for Trips

Since its inception in 2017, the CFC and NCSC International Projects Matching Grants Program has awarded more than $1 million to statewide associations that sponsor electrification projects around the world.

“This financial help from CFC and NCSC is greatly appreciated by Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives,” Meyers remarks. “The CFC and NCSC grants allowed our cooperatives to pay for a significant portion of the project expenses and to continue pursuing these missions in the future.”

Singer adds: “The grants from CFC and NCSC make a huge difference in CREA’s ability to continue supporting the NRECA International program. The funds helped cover the cost of getting the lineworkers and their equipment to Guatemala and room and board while they were in the country.”

OAEC and CREA are already planning another joint international trip later this year—this time to Bolivia. And for the first time, volunteer lineworkers from Wyoming will be joining the team.