Mat Kilgore, one of your Cooperative's lead lineman, joined 11 other lineman from electric cooperatives in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, as part of the 16-day Partners for a Brighter Tomorrow National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International project beginning Sept. 30.
Their mission was to bring first-time electricity to a village of Salinas 7 Cerros in north-central Guatemala. Thanks to the efforts of these volunteer linemen, approximately 300 people in the rural village now have power to their school, church, health outpost and 42 homes.
From an early age, Mat Kilgore - one of your Cooperative's lead lineman - was taught to serve others. So, when he had the opportunity to volunteer for a mission in Guatemala, Kilgore immediately applied. "To volunteer service to others and make a difference in someone's life by providing electricity for the first-time was what attracted me so much to this project," Kilgore said.
During their time in Guatemala, the volunteer linemen worked with Empresa Municipal Rural de Electricidad and some local villagers. Their efforts included the construction of two miles of overhead primary line, a half mile of secondary line and the installation of three transformers.
"I knew it was going to be a challenge," explained Kilgore. "But, I never realized how tough it would actually be until I was there. We had a 1.5-hour drive each way from where we were staying to the job site. Roads filled with significant potholes and bridges with dangerous holes made for an incredibly bumpy ride. Some of us had to take motion sickness medication daily to get through it."
The linemen worked 10- to 12-hour days in extreme heat and humidity in jungle-like conditions. Some of the linemen got sick due to the heat and the food. "Even though not everyone was feeling 100 percent, not one of us stepped away from working on the project," Kilgore recalled.
The local electric municipal and villagers dug the holes and set the poles prior to the volunteer linemen arriving. The volunteer linemen, along with employees from the municipal, build and pulled the line and installed the transformers. Most of the work, including lifting heavy transformers and pulling long spans of wire, was done by hand, as they do not have modern-day equipment.
"The biggest challenge was the communication barrier," said Kilgore. "We had only one interpreter who knew the native language. It was tough with three crews and only one interpreter. Hand gestures to 'pull' line or to 'climb' the pole were used to communicate with the locals."
Three days into the project, the Guatemalans raised the American flag beside their flag. "Words cannot describe what I felt when I saw our flag hanging beside theirs," said Kilgore. "These people were so grateful for us being there."
Once the distribution system was build, two outlets and four lightbulbs were wired in each structure within the village. "The houses aren't what we think of here in the United States," explained Kilgore. "They are one-room huts with dirt floors and thatched roofs. Their beds consist of a wood frame with heavy cardboard as their mattress. The babies' cribs are sacks that are hung from the wall on long nails. The villagers have no running water and women prepare meals over a wood fire."
In Guatemala, the poverty level is extreme. "I knew Guatemalans were poor but, in my mind, what poor is and what I saw was different," explained Kilgore. "They bathe, drink and wash their laundry and dishes all from the same creek."
"The kids have virtually nothing," said Kilgore. "To see these kids with very little but always happy and playing is truly heartwarming. With two young children of my own, it has affected me as a father. My kids are blessed just through the pictures and the stories I have shared with them. For me to be able to teach my kids from this experience is the main reason I went on this mission. My hope is that they may grow up compassionate about serving others."
"My outlook in life is a little bit different now," explained Kilgore. "We are extremely blessed to be living here in the United States. To say we won the 'lottery of life' is an understatement. We really did!"
Kilgore recommends others consider supporting this work. "This experience taught me so much," said Kilgore. "As much as we gave them, we got just as much in return. It's easy to think we brought them electricity for the first time and that's pretty huge but the things we got in return are just as big."
Kilgore is ready to sign up for another mission. "I'm already trying to get to the top of the list," Kilgore said with a grin. "It's in my nature to love people, to serve them and to help out where I can. I feel those kids really won me over. It was pretty cool."
"Partners for a Brighter Tomorrow project has given this rural village electricity. Now that they have it, anything is possible as to what they can do. They just have to work for it. They are only limited to their imagination," said Kilgore.