SPEC Linemen Light Guatemala

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In the mountainous region of Zacapa, Guatemala, generations of people have lived without the modern conveniences brought by electricity. Until recently, that is.


In November, two San Patricio Electric Cooperative linemen, Wade Bounds and Jesse Rivera, traveled to Guatemala in an electrification mission, to bring life-changing power to a remote village in Zacapa, Guatemala for the very first time.


They spent two weeks volunteering for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International Program. They were joined in their efforts by 18 linemen from other Texas electric cooperatives.


The volunteers were tasked with getting primary and secondary power to the remote village of Matasanos, as well as wiring huts for the villagers. Most huts were given four outlets and two lights. By the end of the project, the group had wired more than 100 huts, two churches, a school and a health clinic. It was the first time any of them had power.


Bounds and Rivera agreed that the toughest part of the project was getting to the project. They volunteered in a mountainous region, and conditions were challenging to get used to at first. In the mountains, these volunteer linemen had to get acclimated to the higher altitude. Most days they experienced misty or rainy conditions, which made the clay soil on the mountain slippery and difficult to maneuver.


There was no equipment. Everything was done by hand, and everything had to be carried up and down the mountain. Each lineman had about 60 pounds of climbing gear, and another 30 pounds of tools. Transformers and spools of wire had to be carried to worksites too.


The villagers, eager to see the project through, helped carry the load. Bounds and Rivera said the villagers were inventive. They would come up with simple machines to solve problems and make the work easier. For example, villagers cut down logs and used them to distribute the weight of heavy transformers and make them easier for the group to carry.

Guatemala locals carrying transformer


Although most of the poles for the project had already been set by the villagers before volunteer linemen arrived, there were a few that still needed to be hand-dug. For the most part though, our linemen climbed poles, framed them, hung transformers, and pulled wire.


Throughout the project, there was a strong drive to work. Volunteers worked 12-14 hours days but would have put in more time if they could. From the 20 volunteer linemen to the villagers eagerly awaiting electricity, everyone had the mentality to work tirelessly until the job was done.


“The people in Guatemala were the hardest working people I’ve ever met in my life,” said Bounds. “They were smart, too. Once they saw one pole complete, they knew just what to do on all the rest.”

Linemen manually hang transformer in Guatemala


For most of the trip, Bounds and Rivera worked in a crew with linemen from Rio Grande Valley Electric Cooperative and Nueces Electric Cooperative, including Jesse’s brother, Joe Rivera.  They were the first set of brothers to ever work on an NRECA International project. While they’ve always been close, Rivera said going through the experience together has brought them even closer.

SPEC Linemen with Guatemalan Children

While the other crews had local adults helping them, Bounds and Rivera were primarily aided by children, ready and excited to work to bring power to their village. These kids ranged from 8 to 12 years old, and by all accounts were smart, inventive and quick. They helped carry tools, strung wire and retrieved supplies.


“If we asked them to go get some material, all we’d see is the dust they left behind,” said Bounds. “They’d take off and would come back with what we needed, plus a few extras just in case.”


Bounds said the kids would seek them out each day, using whistles to gain the linemen’s attention. And in return for the help, Bounds and Rivera donated their lunches to the kids each day.

SPEC Linemen with young helpers in Guatemala

A Life-Changing Experience

While our linemen went to Guatemala expecting to change the lives of villagers, perhaps what they didn’t expect was how the experience would change them. They returned home with new perspective, strong relationships and compassion for the people of Guatemala.


“The people there take nothing for granted,” said Rivera. “We’re spoiled. They don’t depend on much like we do, and they’re happy.”


Both had great appreciation for the people, those that helped directly on the project, and those they encountered throughout the country. They felt they made friends everywhere they went and agreed that they fit right in with the locals in Zacapa.


“The most surprising thing about the trip was the depth of relationship we developed with the people in Guatemala and the other linemen that went on the trip,” said Bounds.


They’ve kept in touch with the linemen they worked with on the trip, and have even been able to keep in touch with a few of the villagers in Matasanos as well. Both Bounds and Rivera said they would go back in a heartbeat.


“I appreciated the opportunity to go out there and have that experience. It was like no other,” said Rivera.