Choptank linemen bring power to Central America
By Katie Luckett, Manager of Marketing, Communications and Education
Local linemen Brandon Thompson and Casey Butler of Choptank Electric Cooperative traveled to Santa Isabel, Guatemala, in October for three weeks to help electrify a village with NRECA International. They traveled with other lineworkers from electric cooperatives in Maryland and Virginia to connect 103 homes and a school with electricity. NRECA International partnered with the Municipal Electric Utility of Ixcan (EMRE) to connect Santa Isabel to the local power grid. Read more about the program and trip on page 8.
Brandon Thompson is a Journeyman in the Salisbury district and has worked at Choptank Electric for five years. He decided to volunteer for United We Light because he had never been out of the country and wanted to experience it by doing something similar to what he does for work while helping others.
“This was such an eye-opening experience that made me feel fortunate for how we live and work in the United States,” said Brandon. “I really enjoyed working with the local municipal utility and learning how they climb poles without the equipment we have at home. And the families were so friendly and welcoming of us into their village.”
NRECA sent some power tools down to Guatemala, but our linemen didn’t have bucket or line trucks for setting transformers, making it harder to pull wire and climb. Brandon was able to work on the connections and wiring in the huts as well as on the poles, learning residential electric work while he was there as well. “I got to do so many things on the trip that I don’t normally do in my job at Choptank, which was cool to experience.”
Casey Butler is a Chief Lineman in the Denton district and has worked at Choptank Electric for four years. He decided to volunteer for United We Light because he had always wanted to go on a mission trip and serve the less fortunate and thought this was the perfect opportunity.
“I’m so glad I went—it was much different than what I expected,” said Casey. “The conditions that the villagers live in were worse than anticipated, yet they were so joyful. It humbled us all and made me grateful for what we have back at home.”
Both Brandon and Casey enjoyed interacting with the locals in the village—especially the kids. “They slowly accepted us and warmed up to our presence. They loved high fives and expected them from us every day,” added Casey. The linemen would play soccer and different games with the kids in the evenings and would sometimes be able to communicate with them through the translator.
“The local translator who followed our group around had a big impact on me,” said Brandon. “Especially during the roadblocks and political protests in the beginning of the trip when things were a bit uneasy. He helped explain to us what was happening and taught us a lot about the region.”
Casey noted that it was difficult at times to complete a rather simple task with the workers who didn’t speak English. “We figured out some nonverbal communication with the locals and EMRE crew to complete certain jobs when we couldn’t understand each other. But when the power was turned on for the village on the last day, their excitement and gratitude was undeniable.”
“I am so proud of Brandon and Casey for stepping up to the challenge and using their skills to improve the quality of life for the residents in Santa Isabel, Guatemala,” shared Tom Filewicz, Senior Manager of District Operations at Choptank Electric. “Their selfless dedication is much appreciated.”
Brandon and Casey bonded with the other lineworkers on the trip from The Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives and say the experiences they share will last a lifetime. The group plans to keep in touch and get together annually. “It makes me want to help these other co-ops out even more now during storms because we all feel like family,” added Casey.
“Concern for Community is one of the seven cooperative principles, and these two men have taken that idea to new horizons by volunteering on this trip,” said Wayne Daubach, Manager of Regional Operations at Choptank Electric. “They have truly shown what can be accomplished when you set your mind to it. We appreciate their determination.”
To learn more about the United We Light program and other mission trips, visit nrecainternational.coop.