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Left to right: Larry Cisneros, Northeast Okla., NRECA International’s Fernando Guetti, OAEC CEO Chris Meyers, house owners Noemi & Carlos Chatari (both deaf and mute), and NRECA International’s Marcos Uriona Larrea.


Meyers said at the ceremony. “We live many miles apart, but we have so much in common. We care about our families and friends, and now we’re all members of an electric cooperative.” A stage was set up in the middle of a street in Dos


de Junio, and a string of light bulbs was hung from one pole to another. The atmosphere was that of cel- ebration, with loud Bolivian music and many smiles. The village residents were holding signs of apprecia- tion for both NRECA and CER. “We believe no person should live without the ben-


efit of electricity. We at NRECA are committed to this cause,” Wynn said. “I want to thank the linemen who are here, not only for their commitment at home, but also for their commitment in another country far from home.” After remarks were made, CER officials turned on the lights. It was a dream come true for the locals.


A 50-year-old resident, Carmen Cardenas, said it was the first time in her lifetime she would have electricity. Cardenas has eight children who do homework by candlelight every evening. Her husband spends one month at a time away working the fields near the Amazonian forest. She creates dust- pans in her backyard to sell at the market for 10 bolivianos ($1.40 U.S. dollars). Cardenas’ home and other households receiving electricity were equipped with one lightbulb per room and two electrical outlets. The future of Cardenas’ children will be impacted by access to electricity. “I moved to Dos de Junio five years ago to have my first piece of land.


Now, I will own my land and have electricity,” she conveys in Spanish with a gracious smile, hugging her 7-year-old daughter, Jovana. “It’s unsafe to do anything at night without lights.”


Safety has been a concern for residents of El Torito and Dos de Junio.


Cardenas’ daughter, Carmezita, has been robbed while returning home from school. Carmezita is 22 years old and is now completing sixth grade. She works during the day as a housekeeper in Riberalta and attends school at night. Volunteer linemen were made aware that neither CER nor the local government had planned to install streetlights in Dos de Junio and El Torito due to lack of resources. To enhance safety in the villages, the volunteers took it upon themselves to buy streetlights. NRECA International and the local co-op contributed to the funds to buy streetlights as well. On the morning of Inauguration Day, they installed 11 streetlights in Dos de Junio and four in El Torito. “These guys donated all their time and went above and beyond to buy streetlights,” Hurst said. “The safety factor is very important.”


20


Local villagers on the night the lights came on in Dos de Junio, Bolivia. Bottom: Resident Carmen Cardenas with her daughter, Jovana. Photos by Anna Politano


The Road Ahead In time, CER will build more powerlines to keep up with the expansion in the villages. According to Hurst, the volunteers built a feeder line. As residents are able to purchase electric appliances and increase the energy consumption of their homes, the co-op will need to upgrade the lines to meet a growing demand for power. “We built the backbone and the co-op can come off that in the future,” Hurst said. But as Cardenas said, having one lightbulb right now will enhance their quality of life. The volunteers said they experienced more change


in themselves than the change they brought to the villages. One memory they will carry is of a 4-year-old


girl who came to them one day as they had wrapped up their work. They were exhausted and sitting in the shade waiting for their ride when the cute little girl came by, wearing a red tank top and blue jeans. One of the linemen gave her a peanut butter cookie; she took the cookie, went home, and came back wearing a different shirt. The cycle continued. She would receive some- thing from the linemen and go home to change her shirt or put on a hat. “It was too cute. She kept everything in her pocket, but she wanted us to believe she was another little girl. It was a moment we will not forget. It pulls your heartstrings,” Hurst said smiling. The linemen are going home with newly formed friendships and new perspectives. The trip has taken them back in time nearly 80 years to when rural Oklahomans came together to build powerlines for those who had never had power before. In the 1930s and 1940s, rural electrification pioneers went door-to-door organizing cooperatives and performed all the labor by hand to make the gift of electricity a reality. To Hurst, building lines in a remote area and working by hand also meant following in the footsteps of his father, who was a lineman for 35 years. In his climbing days—around 1966—it was rare to use bucket trucks or digger trucks. As a son watching his dad he reflected, “What else would be more cool than growing up to do what your dad did? I wish dad were still alive so I could share with him what we did here in Bolivia. He would understand,” Hurst said filled with emotion, remembering his father who passed away in 2012.


His dad would understand how much one lightbulb makes a difference.


The legacy he passed on to his son has enabled families who have been less fortunate to have a brighter life. Learn more at:


www.tinyurl.com/energytrails


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