Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 22
With little shade available, a Bolivian boy seeks shelter under a reel of wire waiting to be
installed during the effort.The kids were excited about the coming of electricity to their homes.
As the sky fully darkens, the music stops and Hebert Taboada, public relations director for Cooperativa Electrica Riberalta, steps to the microphone.
He introduces one dignitary after another. Each in turn praises the efforts of
16 American electric cooperative linemen whose hard work is the reason for
As the last of the speakers steps aside, the moment everyone has been waiting for arrives. A switch is thrown, and a string of compact fluorescent lights
hanging high above the crowd suddenly drives away the darkness.
The music returns, loud and fast as before, and the cheering crowd follows
as officials representing America's electric cooperatives - in particular those
in Missouri and Oklahoma - walk from house to house, throwing the 25-amp
breakers that turn on lights for residents.
It's a proud moment everyone here will cherish for the rest of their lives, "The
Day the Lights Came On" in Bolivia.
"For me, flipping that switch didn't affect me until I saw the faces of the
people it helped," says Craig Moeller, an employee of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and the Missouri team leader on the project. "That
is something we take for granted, seeing that light come on. But their reaction
really made it special."
On Aug. 1, these Americans boarded a plane bound for Bolivia. Their mission: build power lines in two villages for people who either had no electricity
or inadequate access to it.
To understand what brought these volunteers on the long South American
Odyssey, one has to go back to 1962 when the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association launched its International Program. This effort came not
long after the 25th anniversary of the Rural Electrification Administration, the
federal agency that helped rural Americans form their own electric cooperatives
starting in 1935.
It was the success of that program in the U.S. that led others to wonder
whether a cooperative model for electricity could be exported to other nations.
President John F. Kennedy was one person who thought the idea had merit.
He witnessed the signing of an agreement between NRECA and the newly
formed U.S. Agency for International Development in the Oval Office, saying
the contract, "holds special promise for those countries which have realized
only a small fraction of their energy potential."
One of the earliest projects for the International Program was in Bolivia,
where organizers went door to door in Santa Cruz de la Sierra to gain support
for an electric cooperative, much like they did in the U.S. in the 1930s. Today,
that electric cooperative is one of the largest in the world.
NRECA International also helped kickstart Cooperativa Electrica Riberalta,
or C.E.R., in the northern part of Bolivia. That's where this team of electric
cooperative workers - eight from Missouri and eight from Oklahoma - found
themselves when they stepped off the plane in the tropical heat of Riberalta, a
city of 90,000 in the steamy Amazon River basin.
Individual linemen from Missouri and Oklahoma have volunteered for other
NRECA International Projects in the past, working in Haiti, Guatemala and
South Sudan. But this project - dubbed "Energy Trails" - would be the first
all-out team effort for the two states.
Any doubts that they were in another world ended as the linemen watched
their luggage being drug to the unfinished terminal in an iron-wheeled cart
pulled by two men. Red dust covered everything in sight, and an intense sun
burned down from a cloudless blue sky.
It takes a full day to travel from Missouri and Oklahoma to Riberalta, including a seven-hour flight from Miami to Bolivia's capital, La Paz. From there it
takes a series of short hops by plane to the destination airport.
Consequently, it is a haggard group of linemen who board a bus for Riber-
Left: A child peaks around the corner of her home as linemen begin work nearby. The kids, bashful at first, warmed up to the visitors
and stole the hearts of the Americans. It helped them deal with missing their own kids back home. Below left: Steve Joannes searches
for cover as a dust storm hits the village where he was wiring homes. This was the first time an International Program project included an
electrician to wire the inside of homes that were about to receive electricity. Steve, who works for Central Electric Power Cooperative,
shared his skills with two local electricians. He also created models so they had something to refer to when he was gone. Below center:
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - October 2016
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Intro
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Contents
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 4
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 5
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 6
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 7
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 8
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 9
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 10
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 11
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 12
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 13
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 14
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 15
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 16
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 17
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 18
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 19
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 20
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 21
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Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 36
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 37
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 38
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Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 40
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 41
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 42
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Cover4