Lighting it up

Co-op linemen help provide power in Guatemala

PHOTO SUBMITTED Lineman Michael Stahl (from left), Assistant Communications and Marketing Director Brian Barr and Lineman Paul Weaver of North Central Electric Cooperative were a part of a team from Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives that helped provide electricity to 140 homes in Guatemala.

Two linemen from North Central Electric Cooperative returned from Guatemala Thursday after assisting with Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives’ Project Ohio.

Linemen Michael Stahl, of New Washington, and Paul Weaver, of Attica, and Assistant Communications and Marketing Director Brian Barr were welcomed at John Glenn Columbus International Airport Thursday night by about 100 family members, friends and coworkers, according to a North Central Electric Cooperative release.

Stahl and Weaver were on a team of 17 linemen from Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives who constructed distribution lines, installed electrical services, meters, main panels, and internal wiring for the villages of Las Tortugas and San Jorge in Guatemala, according to the release. The team provided electricity to 140 homes that never had it before.

Barr was Project Ohio’s documentarian, taking photos and video of the volunteer effort, the release states.

Stahl and Weaver volunteered to go to Guatemala and have worked at North Central Electric Cooperative for 18 and 10 years, respectively.

Before the trip, Weaver said he was looking forward to helping residents there develop.

“It’s a neat thing to do and makes you feel good,” Weaver said. “It’s kind of an adventure, but we will be able to help people out while we’re doing it.”

Stahl said he never had done anything like this before.

“I think this is a fun project to be a part of,” he said. “It’s great to be able to help people in need.”

Weaver said he was excited to see what he got himself into and the trip was sure to be interesting.

“I just want to go down there and help make someone’s life better,” he said.

“I’m just honored to be able to go and have this opportunity to help,” Stahl said.

Dwight Miller, director of safety and loss control for Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, said Ohio has 24 electric cooperatives. Co-op employees and board members were encouraged to donate to the project, he said.

“About $20,000 was raised from the giving campaign,” Miller said.

One major problem the villages faced was obtaining clean drinking water. Miller said the team was to install water filtration systems in each home. Donations were used to help with other village needs and many children received shoes, the release states.

Miller said Project Ohio is “an amazing experience.” He said he traveled to Guatemala two years ago with a group that helped bring electricity to a village and was there to see it lit up for the first time.

“It was the most impactful day of my life,” he said. “The things we take for granted, they are so grateful for. It’s great we get to help them out a little bit.”

The release states Empresa Municipal Rural de Electricidad, the local electric distribution company, arranged for a trade school to supply 15 electrical students who helped the Ohio team with internal wiring. Each home received four lights and two outlets with the ability to expand later, it states.

An Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives release states Arkansas was in charge of the first portion of the project and successfully built five to six miles of distribution lines, which brought power into the village through rough terrain and that group began work in Las Tortugas by lighting up the first 25 homes.

Some villagers were concerned the group was simply there to take money from them and run, as some other people had done. However, after Arkansas’ successful execution of a previous 18-day mission trip, some of the skeptics who had refused to sign up for power saw electrification could be a reality and 17 more households signed up, hoping to receive lights from the Ohio team.

In the North Central release, Barr said the two small communities had been requesting electric service for several years, and residents celebrated with fireworks and dancing.

Weaver said in the release the biggest challenge was adjusting to the 95- to 100-degree weather after working several weeks in Ohio’s sub-freezing temperatures in the cooperative’s eight-county service area. Although their hotel had no hot water, it was a welcome relief after hot, steamy days, he said.

In the release, Stahl said the work was rewarding but relatively routine. However, their lengthy treks over rocky roads from their hotel to the villages proved quite challenging, he said.

“The biggest challenge was getting to the job,” Stahl said. “The road was the worst part. I wish I knew how rough the road was. The work is the work. That road was an understatement.”

In the release, Weaver said he volunteered because it was the right thing to do.

“Why shouldn’t I use my skills as a lineman to help people out? I had a lot of anxiety before going because I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it worked out. I loved interacting with the people in the village. I realized how good we have it here. What we have isn’t too bad. It could be worse,” he stated.

“I considered this a humanitarian project,” Stahl stated in the release. “I just volunteered to come down here, use my skills and help someone out.”

Weaver had a surprise when he returned home and saw his only child wearing a “World’s Best Brother” T-shirt.

He and his wife, Erica, are expecting their second child.