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Local Linemen Help Light The Way In Bolivia

In May, two South River EMC linemen embarked on an adventure of a lifetime. These local men joined 11 linemen from six other North Carolina electric cooperatives to travel to Bolivia for an experience that was life changing for the residents of a small village and the line workers alike.

Tim Williams and Derek Avery served as part of the Brighter World Initiative team to build infrastructure to connect the village of Laphía to the electric grid. More than 120 people in the mountainous, agricultural community in central Bolivia now have access to improved education and economic opportunities, as well as power for their homes and the local school.

“Bolivia was a great experience,” said Lineman Tim Williams. “The people on the mountain in Laphia were living hard -- no electricity, streams of running water down the mountain for washing or cooking. They live like we would camp, with bare essentials.”

Lineman Derek Avery added, “The trip was amazing.” He continued, “Bolivia is a beautiful place and the villagers were helpful. They still live and work off the land. This trip made me appreciate what we have (in the United States), technology and our way of life.”

The Brighter World Initiative brought together 13 expert line workers from seven North Carolina electric co-ops to build about five miles of power lines. Most of the work, including pulling long spans of wire, lifting heavy transformers was done by hand, as access to trucks, and machinery was limited. Local villagers worked with the team to help navigate the most challenging terrain, including crossing a 2,000-foot ravine.

At the completion of the 18-day project, community members, local leaders and volunteers gathered at the school for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration. Cheers, applause and fireworks rang out when line workers flipped the switch to illuminate lightbulbs throughout the school building for the first time. Each volunteer was given a traditional poncho and knit hat and a necklace of fresh flowers grown in the community as a thank you gift.

“The villagers were very excited to see us and more and more every day as we built the power lines,” said Williams. “The language was a barrier, but that didn’t seem to bother them or us.”

South River EMC employees raised over $500 for the purchase of books and soccer balls for the children. Linemen presented the books to the children, along with school supplies from other cooperatives, during the celebration.

Village leaders told cooperative representatives that having electricity will create new economic and educational opportunities and a stronger community, as young people will be able to stay in the village, rather than moving to the city.

More than one billion people live without electric power around the world, according to the International Energy Agency, and only 66 percent of rural Bolivians had access to electricity as of 2016.

The Brighter World Initiative was coordinated through NRECA International, a national cooperative philanthropic group that has brought electricity to more than 120 million people in 43 developing countries since 1962.

South River EMC is a locally owned and operated electric cooperative, which provides electric service to over 44,000 homes, farms and businesses in parts of Harnett, Cumberland, Sampson, Johnston and Bladen counties.

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