This spring, 13 volunteer linemen from seven North Carolina electric distribution cooperatives spent nearly three weeks bringing power for the first time to 67 homes in the remote Bolivian farming community of Laphia, located 11,600 feet above sea level. The “Brighter World Initiative”—a collaborative effort of Raleigh-based North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives (statewide) and the state’s 26 electric cooperatives, in conjunction with NRECA International—was aided with $95,000 in combined International Projects Matching Grants provided by CFC and NCSC.

Although this was the first electrification mission to another country for the North Carolina cooperatives as a group, it was a return trip of sorts for Blue Ridge Energy, which partnered with NRECA International in the early 1960s to electrify what was then the remote Santa Cruz area of Bolivia. That undertaking created what is now the world’s largest electric cooperative, CRE (Cooperativa Rural de Electrificacion), which serves about 600,000 members.

The North Carolina lineworkers built about five miles of infrastructure to connect the town to the main grid. The team also wired the local school.

The region’s extremely steep terrain and elevation presented challenges. Without access to bucket trucks and machinery, line crews did much of the labor by hand, including lifting transformers and dragging spans of wire up hills and through underbrush.

Villagers pitched in by stringing wire, digging holes for poles and anchors, raising poles by hand and learning how to assemble components. When the task was complete, the town thanked and honored the American contingent with traditional red ponchos, wool hats and flowers.

Lineman Jody Keane, of Pee Dee Electric Membership Corporation in Wadesboro, recalls the expressions of joy he witnessed when the lights finally came on. “When we flipped the switch to the school, the children ran around exploring. We could tell they were excited for their future. It was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

According to Joe Brannan, executive vice president and CEO of the North Carolina statewide, “Our efforts in Bolivia have generated an even greater sense of pride of purpose among our employees and members, and reinforced our dedication to service. We cannot thank CFC and NCSC enough for their assistance that has forever changed the lives of Laphía residents and our linemen volunteers.”

CFC and NCSC launched the matching grants in 2017, with funds channeled exclusively through statewide associations that sponsor overseas electrification projects through NRECA International. To date, 16 statewide organizations have or are slated to benefit.