Rural Missouri - March 2018 - 21

Village leader Segundo
Caceres proudly shows off
the new electric light in his
home. Below: Linemen
from the second team tie
off a section of new power
line that now feeds homes
in Chapasirca, Bolivia.

Lights for Chapasirca

Volunteers bring electricity to mountain village in Bolivia
by Jim McCarty | jmccarty@ruralmissouri.coop

T

ake a group of electric cooperative linemen, drop them thousands of miles from their home on the
top of a mountain, take away their tools and equipment and what do they do? They build power
lines. "That's one thing about a lineman," says SEMO Electric Cooperative's Jared Kelley. "We
can figure out a way to get things done no matter what the situation." In December and again
at the end of January, two groups of lineworkers found themselves far from home. They volunteered to
build power lines for a tiny village located high in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia where several hundred
people have been living without the benefits of electricity for generations.
This was the second time Missouri's electric cooperatives have sent volunteers to the impoverished
South American nation through NRECA International. This program pairs volunteers from electric
cooperatives in the U.S. with a community left behind by power companies in the same way rural
Americans found themselves in the days before rural electrification.
This time the effort would be much more challenging. The project was centered around Chapasirca, a
village located near the major city of Cochabamba. While the first Bolivian project in 2016 took place at
sea level, this one required working at close to 13,000 feet elevation.
To reach Chapasirca, the team members flew from the U.S. to La Paz, home to the world's highest
elevation international airport. The effects of the high elevation quickly became apparent. Just carrying
luggage was an ordeal. Another plane took the weary travelers to Cochabamba, elevation 8,000 feet,
where they had a day to adjust. They then boarded a van for a harrowing ride up the mountains.
As the van strained to climb the steep switchbacks on a rutted gravel road, spectacular views of the
city below unfolded, along with the realization that there were no guard rails. Missing a turn meant
plunging down the mountain a thousand feet in some places.
Their first glimpse of Chapasirca showed a tiny village situated in a long valley surrounded by high
peaks. A patchwork quilt of terrain revealed farm fields where the villagers were planting potatoes on
land almost too steep to walk.
From the beginning, it became obvious there would be many obstacles to the success of the project.
Early in the effort, the volunteers learned there was no heat in the rooms. "The first night it was a
little cold," says Eric Peeper, a lineman from N.W. Electric Power Cooperative. "We were sleeping on air
mattresses with blankets. But it was about 40 degrees in our room."
(Continued on next page)



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - March 2018

Contents
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Contents
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - 4
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - 5
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Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - March 2018 - Cover4
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