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would be able to fl ip the switch,” Roedel said. “When the home was energized, she placed her hand on her mouth in a ges- ture of amazement. She was speechless. Grandmother


receives power before


granddaughter—that was the most power- ful moment I witnessed.”


It was stories like this that convinced Pinkley and Cooksey to go. Their desire to make a difference and to give of them- selves for someone else to enjoy power for the fi rst time was much bigger than the inconvenience of leaving their com- fort zones. They were ready.


The Dark Journey to Light Prior to leaving, the 15 linemen had met about the “do’s and don’ts” for the trip. The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas’ Safety and Loss Control Manager Doug Evans led the project. ERMCO, a local manufacturer of transformers, donated ma- terials and funds to assist with the project and Bibb Engineering donated engineering services. The equipment and supplies had already been shipped to the villages prior to the linemen’s arrival. Ozarks Electric Cooperative employees and co-op employ- ees from across Arkansas donated 1,000 pairs of shoes, hundreds of eyeglasses, Bibles, funds and other items to the villag- ers—these supplies were also shipped in advance.


Pinkley and Cooksey took off from Little


Rock, Ark., to Houston, Texas, and then to Guatemala City; together, the fl ights took almost an entire day. Once they landed, the linemen rode a town bus and loaded their gear on top of the bus. Pinkley said they traveled for about six hours and stopped at a road- side motel when it got dark. “It was nothing fancy. We did not have TV, but we had lights and a shower,” he said of the begin- ning of their journey. The next day the linemen rode a bus all day. The bus went up to a small town until it got dark. From there, the linemen met with some villagers and loaded their gear on Toyota trucks so they could drive to their fi nal destination.


“It was very dark and you did not know where you were. It got so black it was like there was noth- ing; you couldn’t see anything,” Pinkley said. “We arrived at a small schoolhouse where we would be sleeping and we had to use the headlights on our hard hats to get our cots out.” At fi rst light, the linemen gathered for a tailgate meeting. They met some of the local villagers who would be helping them through their three-week period there. The mission: bring power to two vil- lages by energizing 36 poles. Local villagers, who the linemen fondly called “Sherpas,” had already


Top: Local villagers were very grateful for receiving electricity. Bottom: Local men helped the linemen with non-technical tasks. Courtesy photos


placed 17 poles. The local men were volunteers who had signed up to help with any non-technical and laborious tasks. Pinkley and Cooksey said they were impressed with the Sherpas’ dedication, orga- nization and teamwork. On the fi rst day, their goal was to bring light to


the schoolhouse where they were staying. They took advantage of the daylight to get to know the area better. The terrain was rugged, the air was thin, but Cooksey and Pinkley both described the moun- tainous region surrounding the villages as “beautiful.” The villagers performed arduous work to accom- plish their daily chores. The women worked labori- ously to transport water and gather fi rewood for their household tasks. Most men worked in the field raising livestock or harvesting timber. Hardwood timber is plentiful in the area and man- ually processed, then transported off the mountain with mules. Some coffee is produced miles away, but corn, potatoes, and other vegetables are grown


and any surplus is sold. After assessing the area and creating a


game plan with the locals, the linemen rolled up their sleeves. And, then, there was light.


Welcome to the Family The next few days followed with heavy, but fulfi lling work. The linemen built lines, strung wires, set transformers—all by hand. The locals’ help was invaluable; they carried a lot of equipment and supplies by hand, going up and down on steep paths. The lo- cal women prepared meals, while the chil- dren followed the linemen and got pieces of wire to try to create their own version of


a pole. “The kids were welcoming from the time we showed up. We were a part of their family, and they did not want us to leave,” Cooksey said with a smile. “They found out we had candy, and once we gave them candy, they were our kids too.” The linemen electrifi ed two villages before the expected time frame. To commemorate the occasion, villagers planned a full day of cele- bration the last Sunday the linemen were there. Music began around 8 a.m., and only ended at 4 p.m. The event featured a ribbon cutting and the linemen marching onto a stage covered with freshly cut pine needles. The linemen were their heroes. Local politicians and community leaders attended the celebra- tion. The event also featured home cooking from the Guatemalan women who were able to enjoy having a refrigerator in the kitchen for the fi rst time. A local villager stood up and said this project had been deemed as “impos- sible” in the past, but it had now become a


reality. “Today your dreams come true,” Coleman ad- dressed the audience during the celebration. “Many years ago, men and women in our nation worked to receive electricity just like you did.” At the conclusion of the speeches, the villagers and honorees gathered around a power pole near the front of the school and a “hot stick” was used to energize a circuit that provided electricity to dozens of homes for the fi rst time. The villagers were overwhelmed with gratitude.


Hortencia Lucas Roblero, 43, said it best: “We’re thankful for their help because without their sup- port, this project would not be a reality,” she said. “We pray that God will allow you to reap the ben- efi ts of having light in the United States, and that you continue extending your support to other families to change and improve lives.” Yes, the lives of the villagers had been changed, but so were the lives of the linemen—forever.


SEPTEMBER 2014


15


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