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Co-op Lineworkers Recognized for Powering Bolivian Communities

The volunteers were honored at an awards banquet after providing first-time electricity to Bolivian villages.

Fifteen electric cooperative lineworkers who traveled to Bolivia to light impoverished villages for the first time have received recognition as true pioneers of power.

Crew members representing United We Light: Project Bolivia assembled for an Oct. 18 banquet, less than a month after they returned from their mission in the Oruro region of the South American nation.

The evening included reminiscences from many of the lineworkers, a moving video that showed how they electrified rural Bolivia, and the presentation of a $1,000 check in their honor to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s international unit, which helped sponsor the trip.

“It was almost as surreal as when we went to Bolivia,” said John Medved, director of safety and compliance at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and team leader for the project. “To see all the guys’ faces again, it brought back so many great memories of what we did for the Bolivians and what it did for us.”

The recognition ceremony, held at Dominion Raceway near Fredericksburg, brought together the men who spent two-and-a-half weeks electrifying rural communities across the Bolivian countryside. More than three dozen homes and dwellings received power for the first time, many with a simple, single fixture with a CFL blub.

The project will have immediate effects on the quality of life for residents of five tiny villages, who plan to use electricity to power a water pump, use lights to keep scary carnivorous nocturnal animals at bay, and employ heaters to help process their key crop of quinoa.

“These linemen are a shining example of the cooperative principle of commitment to community,” said Richard G. Johnstone Jr., president and CEO of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. “Their sacrifice and their caring will make a difference in the lives of these villagers and generations to follow.”

Johnstone presented Medved and team members with the check made out to NRECA International, which has organized overseas electrification missions since 1962. United We Light: Project Bolivia was the first such effort by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. Support came from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp. and the National Cooperative Services Corp.

The lineworkers, representing eight electric cooperatives, departed for Bolivia Sept. 4 and returned Sept. 21. The group included:

  • Bernie Hastings, A&N Electric Cooperative, Tasley, Virginia;
  • Cody Minter, BARC Electric Cooperative, Millboro, Virginia;
  • Jason Purvis, Josh Golladay and Allan Thacker, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Lovingston, Virginia;
  • Mike Johnson, Choptank Electric Cooperative, Denton, Maryland;
  • Craig Loving, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, Warsaw, Virginia;
  • Dillon Sheads, Patrick Ambrose, Cody Lockhart, Brian (Jake) Michael, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Fredericksburg, Virginia;
  • Roger Pace, Mike Alexander and JT Jacobs, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Rockingham, Virginia;
  • Scott Diggs, Southside Electric Cooperative, Crewe, Virginia.

They labored in difficult conditions at altitudes of 13,000 feet, with few hot showers and minimal diets, consisting in part of llama, a meat and pack animal in Andean culture. But the gratitude that the villagers showed erased any hardships in the minds of the lineworkers.

“They sent us to the most remote places you can ever imagine in your life,” Purvis told the banquet. “Magic starts to happen. We see these people; we learn from these people. We talk to these people. They become our friends; we become their friends. These people are changed forever out of the darkness into the light. Anything in this world is possible.”

Highlights of the trip are posted on the Cooperative Living magazine Facebook page and the United We Light: Project Bolivia Facebook group.

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