By Jennifer Wall, Communications Specialist
Providing first-time electricity to villagers living in night’s darkness in remote Guatemala had challenges for Southside Electric Cooperative Line Technician Scott Geovannello, but it also. had extraordinary rewards!
Geovannello was part of the United We Light initiative sponsored by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives in conjunction with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International with support from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp. The mission of the recent United We Light initiative was to bring power to the 500 residents of the rural village of Santa Isabel. Lineworker volunteers from Virginia and Maryland electric cooperatives were committed to accomplishing the mission, no matter the difficulty.
Challenges included getting around civil unrest protesters to make the 12-hour drive to base camp; navigating miserable road conditions and terrains, which often resulted in stuck trucks; and working in stifling, 100-plus-degree, muggy heat for 11 hours daily. At times, it felt like the volunteers were in the jungle, cutting away dense vegetation and traversing steep hills and deep mud. The last significant challenge was the language barrier. The villagers spoke a Maya language, Q’eqchi,’ so outside knowledge of Spanish was of little use.
A huge help to the team was that villagers had set all the poles and anchors before the volunteers arrived. This was done by hand, using shovels, as there were no augers or post-hole diggers. In addition, the villagers dug rocks out of the hills and hauled them to the road to combat the mud. Some villagers were hauling rock much heavier than themselves.
“The food was amazing,” says Geovannello, specifically mentioning the pancakes and other breakfast fare. “In addition, everything about the village was clean and tidy. The people were kind and would do anything to help us, and the children loved to watch us.
“Being a part of the Guatemala electrification project was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that gifted me a couple new perspectives. First, it showed me the importance electricity has for our quality of life and how much we take it for granted. Most importantly, I gained a newfound level of respect for those who come to the U.S. searching for a better life, despite being unable to speak English.
“We left with the lights on after constructing and energizing 5.5 miles of line to 103 service connections. I sincerely believe we enriched the lives of deserving people, changing their lives forever.”
When asked if he would go back, his answer was a big yes!