Electricity is something that many take for granted in America. In the rural village of Ventura, Guatemala, families were only able to cook using fire and spent their evenings in the dark - that was until Oregon Empowers installed electricity infrastructure earlier this month. A group of cooperatives across Oregon banded together to form Oregon Empowers, a non-profit supporting the electrification of rural communities worldwide. Oregon Empowers partnered with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) International to send ten linemen and materials to Jalapa, Guatemala to install power lines and connect over 35 homes and community buildings.
UEC's own Travis Deming and Matt Ellis were two of the ten linemen that helped with the project. The crew also included utility professionals from Oregon Trail Electric Co-op, Hood River Electric Co-op, Consumer's Power, and more.
"Seeing [the families] when the light switch came on was - they thought it was the coolest thing ever” says Matt Ellis. “It was very humbling to experience that, some of the things we take for granted here in the states.”
Travis Deming says "The coolest part of the trip was seeing the families happy in the situation they were in. Families were just happy to be together.”
The project was no small undertaking. There were over six miles of line to be put up in less than three weeks and the crews did not have their typical equipment or proper materials. "Everything we did, we were climbing poles. There were no bucket trucks down there," says Deming.
In addition to the electrification projects, there were also projects completed to benefit the local community. Volunteers from the crews also completed projects to benefit a local school. The group painted the inside of the schoolhouse, built a play structure, set up basketball hoops, and delivered basketballs and soccer goals.
Once the line project was completed, crews were honored by local dignitaries and the village. The mayor of Jalapa threw a celebration at his ranch for the lineworkers and ambassadors from the Oregon Empowers group. A live band at the gathering played traditional Guatemalan marimba music to honor the workers.
UEC hopes to continue the support of Oregon Empowers and send volunteers to future projects. For additional photos of the trip, visit the Oregon Empowers website.