MEC linemen bring light to Guatemalan village

In a story seemingly made for Christmas, two of our local electric linemen helped bring light to a Central American village that had been in the dark for 15 years. 

The days were long, and the work was hard in hot and humid conditions. But the rewards far outweighed the challenges for Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) linemen Mark Bandy and Jason Holley, who had volunteered to join the United We Light: Project Guatemala team. The group spent nearly three weeks working to bring light to the lives of 500 residents in a remote and impoverished rural village in northwestern Guatemala. MEC covers parts of Lunenburg, Charlotte and Halifax counties, along with six others in Southside Virginia and eastern North Carolina. 

Thanks to the efforts of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association — NRECA International, who have coordinated the electrification program for the past 60 years, lineworkers and others from America’s electric cooperatives have had the opportunity to volunteer to participate in mission trips around the globe to improve quality of life through the gift of electricity. This year’s destination was Santa Isabel in the Ixcan region of Guatemala, near the southern border of Mexico. 

Santa Isabel had been waiting for power for about 15 years, according to United We Light trip coordinator J.T. Jacobs. He serves as safety training manager for the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. After a dirt road into town was created — the first of its kind in the area — it finally became possible late this fall.

The MEC linemen were part of a team of 19 volunteers, from 10 electric cooperatives in Virginia and Maryland, who worked tirelessly to bring reliable, safe electric service to 103 homes, businesses and a school. Working 10-hour days six days a week over a period of 19 days, the team built and energized 5.5 miles of power lines on poles that had been set along the muddy and rutted dirt road by Empressa Municipal Rural de Electricidad, the local municipal utility that assisted with the project completion. The team also installed six transformers and internal wiring in the wooden thatched-roof huts.

HELPING A COMMUNITY COME TOGETHER 

Without the convenience of bucket trucks and other modern line tools, the linemen put their climbing skills to work for the mission and gained an appreciation for modern equipment.

“The terrain was very rugged, but it’s beautiful there,” said Holley. “It’s interesting that they are able to survive and have the things that they have without modernized equipment. The biggest challenge for us was trying to get the job done without some of the equipment that we have here at home, and using materials that are different from what we are used to, having to figure out how some of it works.”

“We worked hard, and it was hot — 113 degrees ‘real feel’ hot,” said Bandy.

“The kids were the best part of the trip,” he added. “The only toys I saw there were soccer balls, everything they have there is for work. There was not very much luxury for them, but I guess they don’t miss what they never had. They all seemed really happy. People here don’t realize just how good they have it.”

MEC President and CEO John Lee agreed. 

“We are so fortunate, as Americans, to have lived all our lives with electricity. Today, many take it for granted,” Lee said in a statement. “MEC is pleased to have been a part of such a noble effort and we couldn’t be prouder of our two lineman who clearly made a real difference in the quality of life for those living in that small village in Guatemala. The work they did there was life-changing not only for the villagers, but for the two of them as well.”

The two linemen agree that although they worked hard, they also got much in return.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring something great to these villagers,” Bandy said. “Jason and I stepped up to grab the opportunity, and it changed the way we look at things. We’re glad we got to go.”

Holley said he had always wanted to go on a mission trip and try to help people. 

“So when the opportunity came through the United We Light program, I took it,” said Holley.