In October, lights went on for the first time in two villages nestled deep in the jungles of northwest Guatemala. After weeks of grueling manual labor in adverse conditions far from home, line crews from Oklahoma and Colorado completed work on a project to provide the villages of Pie del Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas the gift of electricity.
Between long days caused by the lack of major equipment and staving off dehydration brought on by dense jungle humidity, crews often returned to their rooms late in the evening exhausted – ready to do it again the next day.
“Nothing came easy,” United Power lineman Kelly Snow said. “We had to gut it out each and every day. But even on the worst days, everyone showed up and gave it their all. We came to accomplish something, and we did.”
Line crews were stationed in the small city of Playa Grande, located roughly 300 miles from Guatemala City. Each morning, crews loaded into trucks and traversed dirt-packed and often jarring roads to the villages they’d be powering nearly an hour away.
Once there, work had to be completed without the use of specialized tools or mechanical equipment, and vehicles were to be used for transportation only.
Snow, who’s experienced the worst working conditions as a lineman in Colorado’s Front Range, said it’s hard to prepare for the difficulties of working in a third world country.
“It’s like stepping back in time,” he said. “We talked to others who were on projects before us and looked at all the photos, but there are still elements of the unknown. It’s hot and humid the whole time; hard to stay hydrated.”
Despite the harsh working conditions, crews were able to complete the first half of the project in just over a week – providing power to the first of the two villages – and the whole project on time.
“I’m proud to have been a part of this project to provide power to these families and kids,” Snow said. “It gives these kids the chance to continue their studies, and maybe even opens the door for computers or cell phones one day.”
Brief reprieves gave Snow and other linemen an opportunity to spend some time building relationships with villagers, playing games with the children and exploring the nearby jungle and lakes.
Above and beyond providing electricity, the crews were also able to gift each household with two-year water filters and each school with a laptop and wheelchair.
“The Rural Electric Association was founded on the principal of bringing electricity to rural America,” Snow said just before the project. “It’s an inspiration to be a part of that foundation and spreading it to other countries.”