‘This was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life’

PEC lineworkers reflect on volunteering for Bolivia electrification project

As the sun began to slowly sink beneath the horizon on Nov. 17, the lives of the people of Bolivia’s San Antonio del Matty village were about to get brighter. The mayor, the village’s president, 17 Texas electric cooperative volunteers and countless villagers cheered as, with a flip of a switch, the streets and homes were illuminated for the first time.

For PEC Regional Operations Supervisor Andy Ridge and PEC journeyworkers Matt Howell and Marshall Verette, this moment was undoubtedly the highlight of their trip.

“The village kids did a show for us and brought us different dishes, desserts and Brazil nuts,” Ridge said. “It was a complete surprise to us, and it was cool to watch all of our hard work come to life and light up the village.”

Crews installing electric line in a jungle village
Our PEC team on the jobsite working 10, 15-hour days in the hot, humid weather.

From Nov. 6–20, our 3-man team joined 14 other volunteers from Bartlett Electric Cooperative, Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, CoServ Electric Cooperative, Mid-South Synergy and United Cooperative Services to electrify the San Antonio del Matty, Jerico and Batraja villages in Pando, Bolivia, one of the poorest states in the country.

Howell was ecstatic when he was recruited. He had volunteered to represent PEC on our last electrification trip (to Haiti in 2016) but was named an alternate with the promise that he’d make the next volunteer crew. For him, the journey was a long time coming.

“The trip was phenomenal, and it was eye-opening for me to see how much we take electricity for granted in the United States,” Howell said. “[The trip] was better than going on vacation. This was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

In July, Ridge and two other volunteers from different cooperatives met with the Bolivian government in their country. After scoping out the project and making sure it was the right fit for our volunteers, the 10-day trip was finalized, and on Nov. 6, our crew left Texas. The team spent the first week stringing five miles of secondary power lines to transformers and spent the remainder of their trip installing 140 meter poles with meter loops.

Although the humid, rainy weather and frequent vehicle break downs (our volunteers traveled to the villages daily via 45-minute rides in old buses) were significant obstacles, it didn’t stop our lineworkers from getting the job done swiftly and productively.

Journeyworker Marshall Verette
Journeyworker Marshall Verette helps build meter loops on the project.

“Once we actually got to the project, we were a well-oiled machine,” Ridge explained. “Even though we were all from different cooperatives with different work experiences, we all got along really well and worked incredibly well together.”

Thanks to the tremendous kindness and gratitude of the villagers and the brotherhood of lineworkers, this inspiring job was one for the books.

“Everyone had the highest respect for us and kept thanking us over and over again,” Verette said. “Being able to give people power they’ve never had before is something that you never forget.”