Electric Cooperative Line Workers Bring Electricity to Rural Bolivia

Thirteen line workers from seven electric cooperatives in North Carolina recently joined forces to bring first-time electricity, and new opportunities, to a remote village in Bolivia. Thanks to the efforts of these volunteers through the Brighter World Initiative, more than 120 people in the agricultural community of Laphía now have power for their homes and local school, as well as improved quality of life and a more promising future.

The 2019 Brighter World Initiative volunteers included:

Blue Ridge Energy (Lenoir)
Eddie Stephens, crew leader
Jerry Gregg

Edgecombe-Martin County EMC (Tarboro)
Sammy Clark

Pee Dee Electric (Wadesboro)
Jody Keane
Steve Preslar

Randolph EMC (Asheboro)
Dennis Kidd
Timmy Williamson

Roanoke Electric Cooperative (Aulander)
Jamie Elliott
Russ Flythe

South River EMC (Dunn)
Derek Avery
Timmy Williams

Surry-Yadkin EMC (Dobson)
Tommy Brock
Eric Sawyers

Faron Atwood, Blue Ridge Energy
Daniel Purvis, South River EMC

They were also joined by Randy White, Job Training & Safety Specialist with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, who provided additional support.

“We commend the Brighter World Initiative volunteers for their willingness to work in challenging conditions to help others,” said Nelle Hotchkiss, senior vice president of association services & COO for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. “This project is a true demonstration of the cooperative spirit that will not only change the lives of the people of Laphía, but also have a lasting impact on the volunteers themselves.”

During their time in Bolivia, the volunteer team built about five miles of power line to connect more than 75 buildings to electricity. Most of the work, including pulling long spans of wire and lifting heavy transformers, was done by hand, as access to trucks and machinery was limited. Local villagers worked with the line workers to navigate the most challenging terrain, including crossing a 2,000-foot ravine.

“The locals were shy at first, but the expressions on their faces when the poles started to go up was the best part of the trip,” said volunteer Steve Preslar. “They knew this was a step forward for their village and wanted to help in any way possible.”

At the completion of the 18-day project, community members, local leaders and volunteers gathered at the school for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration. Volunteers shared gifts of school supplies, books and soccer balls with the local children. Cheers, applause and fireworks rang out when crew leader Eddie Stephens flipped the switch to illuminate light bulbs throughout the school building for the first time.

Village leaders told cooperative representatives that having electricity will create new economic and educational opportunities and a stronger community, as young people will be able to stay in the village, rather than moving to the city.

At an elevation of 11,600 feet, Laphía is in a mountainous region of Cochabamba located between the capital city of La Paz and the city of Santa Cruz. Its villagers live in modest dwellings and farm potatoes and onions. Prior to the completion of the project, they used kerosene lights, candles and battery-powered lanterns for light and were some of about 285,000 people in Cochabamba without electricity. More than one billion people live without electric power around the world, according to the International Energy Agency, and only 66 percent of rural Bolivians had access to electricity as of 2016.

The Brighter World Initiative was coordinated through NRECA International, a national cooperative philanthropic group that has brought electricity to more than 160 million people in 44 developing countries since 1962.

View and download additional images from the project on Google Photos.