PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A remote village in Guatemala will soon have electricity for the first time thanks to the work of linemen, engineers and electric workers in Oregon.
From March 6-21, the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association is sending 12 people to Ventura, a small village about 6 miles north of Jalapa, Guatemala. They’ll install about 4 miles of power lines in the air, enough to power about 35 homes. They’ll also wire those homes to have outlets to use the electricity.
Shawn Foultner works for Consumers Power Inc. in Philomath and is going on the trip. He expects it will be a huge challenge.
“It’s just going to be more work than we’re used to,” he said. “There’s no bucket trucks. Pulling wire is going to be completely different.”
The team will have limited supplies and will need to rely on their own skills and work together to accomplish the project.
The Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association, or ORECA, is an organization of 18 electric co-ops from around the state. ORECA and the individual co-ops have been working to raise the funds and provide the personnel to accomplish the project.
Foultner said he was among a team of Oregon electric workers who were planning to go to Guatemala before the pandemic. The pandemic delayed the trip, but when Foultner’s boss asked in 2022 if he was still interested, he was eager to volunteer again.
“I like volunteering. I have a heart to serve people, with my trade or without it,” he said.
Electric cooperatives are nonprofit organizations that work to provide electricity to rural or low-income areas.
While these Oregon electric co-ops work to power rural parts of the state, the National Rural Electric Cooperative sometimes looks beyond the U.S. to see how it can help parts of the world that have been living without electricity. That’s how ORECA learned it could help in Guatemala.
The Director of Engineering for Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative Charlie Tracy said right now, people in the village of Ventura rely on subsistence farming. Farmers grow their own crops and raise their own livestock to provide for their families.
Tracy had a chance to meet residents during a reconnaissance trip in January.
“I met one family who, not only were they growing their own corn and beans as their main staple foods, but they also dry the corn, remove the corn from the husk and grind it all before making their first meal,” he said.
The process takes them hours – time they could spend doing other things if they had the opportunity.
Tracy said having the ability to power tools that help with this process could allow them more time to pursue things like growing cash crops or getting their kids to school. Electric lights in their homes will also help allow them to work on school or projects through more hours of the day.
The ORECA volunteers won’t be working entirely on their own. They’ll also have the help of the villagers, who have already set the poles in place for the power lines.
“They are definitely engaged and excited about power coming to their valley,” Tracy said.
He thanks the groups sponsoring the project including all 18 individual electric co-ops. Anyone interested in supporting the efforts can make a donation through the Oregon Empowers nonprofit or to ORECA.
For Foultner, this will be his first trip out of the country and he’s looking forward to representing the spirit of Oregonians. During ice storms and wildfires, co-ops across the state band together to restore power to rural areas. He hopes to bring the same cooperation and hard work to Ventura.
“We’re leaving the country. We all want to do our best, so we’re bringing our A-game and that positive attitude has got to get us through,” he said.