Virginia lineworkers on mission to electrify rural Bolivian communities

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Fifteen volunteer electric cooperative line-workers are headed to rural Bolivia in early September to bring the gift of power to five communities that lack access to electricity.

The initiative entitled “United We Light: Project Bolivia” is sponsored by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives in conjunction with NRECA International and support from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp.

“Concern for community is one of the foundational cooperative principles. That means your local community, of course, but it also means helping other communities in other places, communities that aren’t as fortunate as we are. As cooperative utilities, one of the best things we can do is deliver the gift of electricity to communities where there is none,” said Richard G. Johnstone Jr., president and CEO of the association.

The crew will fly as a team, on Sept. 4, from Reagan National Airport to Miami, where they will board another plane to Santa Cruz, the largest city in Bolivia. From there, they will embark on a third flight to Cochabamba, followed by a six-hour van ride to Challapata, a municipality in the Oruro Department of the South American nation.

The lineworkers will be divided into two teams for an estimated 12 days of work on 11 miles of power line. Among their duties: construct primary and secondary lines; string, sag and tie in conductors on the structures; hang transformers and make connections; and provide hands-on training to local utility workers. In all, 52 households will be powered.

“The main reason we’re going is to electrify villages and it’s going to change those people’s lives forever. And it will forever change the lives of the guys who are going,” said John Medved, director of safety and compliance at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and team leader for the project. Medved has previously traveled to Haiti on a NRECA International mission.

The group includes lineworkers from A&N Electric Cooperative, Tasley, Va.; BARC Electric Cooperative, Millboro, Va.; Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Lovingston, Va.; Choptank Electric Cooperative, Denton, Md.; Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, Warsaw, Va.; Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Fredericksburg, Va.; Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Rockingham, Va.; and Southside Electric Cooperative, Crewe, Va.

“I’m pretty excited but nervous at the same time,” said Cody Minter of BARC. “I’m excited to see the reaction of everyone’s face down there when we actually light up the community.”

On Sept. 19, a lighting ceremony will include the lineworkers, as well as an “inauguration” team of Kent Farmer, president and CEO of REC; Greg White, president and CEO of NNEC; Butch Williamson, president and CEO of ANEC; Ingrid Hunsicker of NRECA International; and Alan Scruggs, VMD Association vice president of safety and training services.

“This is an opportunity for cooperatives to step up and be part of a commitment to the international community. It will raise the quality of life by bringing electricity and all the benefits that come with it,” White said.

After a day of rest, the lineworkers will return home on Sept. 21.

The trip is the first time the VMD Association has sponsored an overseas electrification project with NRECA International, which is an affiliate of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and has been providing power to unserved areas in rural Bolivia since 1962.

Highlights of the trip will be updated regularly on the Cooperative Living magazine Facebook page and the United We Light: Project Bolivia Facebook group.

The Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives is headquartered in Glen Allen, Va., and provides safety and training, communications and legislative services to 15 electric cooperatives serving the three-state Mid-Atlantic region. For more information on VMDAEC and the scholarship program, visit www.vmdaec.com or www.co-opliving.com.