Central Virginia Electric Cooperative has a strong track record of commitment to its community. Now, that community extends 4,000 miles to the south.
That’s because three CVEC linemen were instrumental in bringing electricity for the first time to five tiny villages in Bolivia as part of an international electrification project.
Josh Golladay, Jason Purvis and Allan Thacker said the 17-day project, completed in mid-September, changed the lives of the Bolivians they met, and their lives, as well.
“They sent us to the most remote places you can ever imagine in your life. Magic starts to happen. We see these people; we learn from these people. We talk to these people. They become our friends, we become their friends. These people are changed forever out of the darkness into the light,” Purvis said.
Gary Wood, president and CEO of CVEC, said the linemen’s exploits in difficult and challenging circumstances serves as an example of the way co-ops build communities here and abroad.
“We were very fortunate to have great representatives of our co-op to go down to Bolivia. Josh and Allan and Jason did an outstanding job and service,” he said.
The effort was called United We Light: Project Bolivia. It was sponsored by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives with its member co-ops including CVEC. A division of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, NRECA International, which electrifies developing nations, helped put together the trip.
Golladay, Thacker and Purvis were among 15 seasoned linemen who worked climbing poles, pulling and stringing wire, building structures and hanging transformers without the aid of bucket trucks or high-tech tools. In fact, some of the locals helped pull wire from long spools.
In all, crews used about 13 miles of line to power more than three dozen dwellings in five communities consisting of tiny houses built of adobe, mud, clay and sand.
“A lot of the challenges were the terrain, the weather and not being able to get your hands on the material when you need it,” Thacker said. “The work was basically the same, it’s just you don’t have any type of equipment to work with. That’s what makes it a little harder.”
To get to the worksites, the three linemen endured three plane rides and a bus trip that lasted more than six hours. They ate and slept in primitive conditions and endured temperature extremes as South America passes from winter into spring. “Sunshine in the morning, raining by the afternoon and then cold,” Golladay said.
The project will have immediate payoffs for residents, who plan to use electricity to power a water pump, use lights to keep carnivorous nocturnal animals at bay, and employ heaters to help process their key crop of quinoa.
“It’ll tug at your heartstrings to see people that have struggled for that long and to be so thankful for something even we as linemen take for granted every day — just flipping a switch and having the lights come on,” Golladay said. “For us to be able to come in for two days to make that a reality for them, I don’t know that you’re going to find a more fulfilling feeling in the world.”
After completing work in a village named Coniri, Purvis handed some Bolivian currency to mayor Lorenzo Arroyo. Arroyo picked the bigger lineman off the ground and started crying.
“Can you believe that?” Purvis recalls. “Oh, it was amazing. And then we turned the lights on and, all of a sudden, everybody was just running into the room looking at the light bulb and crying.”
Wood said the lessons of Project Bolivia will serve as an inspiration to the CVEC family.
“I can’t say enough about what it means to have those folks representing the entire co-op and the work they did personally,” Wood said.
“We’re very fortunate that the board of directors, the staff and all of our employees really believe that the cooperative spirit needs to extend beyond just the limits of our service territory.”