Energy Trails Project Lights Up Bolivia

In August 2016, six Missouri lineworkers joined six volunteers from Oklahoma on a 16-day electrification project in Amazonian Bolivia. The project, called Energy Trails, brought power to 361 rural Bolivian families, making their villages safer and improving their quality of life.

Free Land But No Electricity
The villages of El Torito and Dos de Junio sit on the outskirts of the city of Riberalta. Villagers moved to their rural communities when the Bolivian government offered them free plots of land with the promise of electricity to come: Riberalta had electricity before the Energy Trails project, but the villages did not.

Photo Credit: Jim McCarthy and Rural Missouri

Homes in El Torito and Dos de Junio are small and basic. Cooperative volunteers described them as being just one or two rooms with dirt floors, no running water, and, of course, no electric power. Brandon Steffan of West Central Electric Cooperative in Higginsville talked with Electric Co-op Today about how hard it is to imagine life without electricity:

“It’s 2016. You never think there are people that don’t have power. You just assume everybody has it. And the people here have gone so long without it. I don’t think they know exactly how much it’s probably going to change their life.”

Lilian Maguayo, the president of the El Torito community, might not have known exactly how much her life would change with electrification, but she had some idea. She knew that electricity would offer her community access to better healthcare and education, and she believed that electric power could give the villagers of El Torito something even more powerful:

“You’re coming here to give us hope” (source).

Read More: On the Ground in Bolivia (from Rural Electric Magazine)

Safer Streets and Rewarding Work

Before Energy Trails, the streets of El Torito and Dos de Junio were dark at night. Motorbike taxi drivers from the city were often unwilling to drive villagers after dark because it was too difficult to see bumps and holes in the dirt road. Criminals wielding machetes sometimes hid in the dark along the road, too, making foot travel frightening and unsafe.

Without a way to get safely to hospitals in Riberalta after dark, villagers couldn’t always get adequate, timely medical care. Energy Trails volunteers like Jared Kelley of SEMO Electric Cooperative in Sikeston appreciated the opportunity to help change that. Kelley told Electric Co-op Today that while he’s always found his Cooperative work rewarding, the rewards he got from volunteering in Bolivia were “unreal.”

Those rewards were hard-earned. Energy Trails project volunteers laid 250 new poles over ten miles, bringing power to 361 families in less than two weeks.

“We use bucket trucks at home,” Kelley said. “We still climb some, but here it was all done with hooks, all manpower, and a lot of good guys to get it done (source).”

Kelley was one of six Missouri linesmen selected to participate in Energy Trails. Volunteers were chosen from among 18 total volunteers at 12 of your Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

Read More: The Energy Trails Blog 
by the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives

Photo Credit: Jim McCarthy and Rural Missouri

Your Missouri Electric Cooperatives’ Energy Trails Volunteers
Missouri Energy Trails volunteers included Steven Smith of Northeast Missouri Electric Power Cooperative in Palmyra, Robert Hawkins of Boone Electric Cooperative in Columbia, Tom Golder of Osage Valley Electric Cooperative in Butler, John Winther of Laclede Electric Cooperative in Lebanon, Brandon Steffan of West Central Electric Cooperative in Higginsville, and Jared Kelley of SEMO Electric Cooperative in Sikeston.

About Energy Trails
The Energy Trails project was made possible through a partnership between the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives (AMEC) and the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC) through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s International Program. The project was completed with the help of local Bolivian Cooperative, Cooperativa Electrica Riberalta.

About NRECA International
For 50 years, NRECA International has provided women, men and children in developing countries with access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity. As a global leader in the design and implementation of successful and sustainable rural electrification programs, NRECA International works to bring electricity to the world, thereby improving health, education and economic opportunities and helping to create parity of opportunity for millions in the developing world.

Learn More
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