Author: Mandy Barth
There was cause for celebration in Pena Roja this week. Just as it has been on each of the four Project Indiana construction trips before this one, our linemen brought electricity to a village that has never had it before. That was the mission. But, as they’ve done on each trip before this one, the linemen celebrated with the villagers a successful mission and the possibilities that are to come for those who live in Pena Roja.
The village residents dressed in their Sunday best and prepared a feast for all who were there to celebrate this much-anticipated time with them. And, there was ICE CREAM, a rare treat that wasn’t possible before the linemen brought electricity to power freezers. They offered a festive environment with music and dance. Dignitaries celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Their neighbors came from near and far to celebrate the light and possibilities now available to the residents of Pena Roja. The nearby village of Las Flores was electrified by Alabama’s electric cooperatives in 2013. They joined in the celebration this week, too. The schoolchildren from Las Flores came to celebrate with their Pena Roja friends and to extend their appreciation to their electric cooperative friends.
And, the Project Indiana team celebrated alongside their new friends from Pena Roja.
A few from the team had quietly made a “short” trip to the community of Cuilco to do a little shopping for gifts. After pooling their money, the team returned with 65 pair of shoes, 65 coloring books, four soccer balls, pinatas, fireworks and some backpacks. Each Pena Roja child received a new pair of shoes and a coloring book. The men offered a cornhole-contest-of-sorts to give away the backpacks. They played soccer with the children, and celebrated the festive day with the fireworks and pinatas.
By the time the Project Indiana team left the mountain at the end of that day, every home in Pena Roja had working electricity. This was truly a day to celebrate.
School and family pictures are something we take for granted here. Most American schoolchildren have a school picture day at least once a year. Many families coordinate their outfits for a family photo to adorn the front of the annual holiday card. But, in Guatemala, portraits are a luxury.
Because of this, Project Indiana support team member Ron Holcomb makes it a personal mission to host a picture day on every trip he takes to Guatemala. By day, he’s the CEO of Linden, Indiana-based Tipmont. However, his personal passion is capturing images of the people of this land he’s come to love through Project Indiana.
On each trip to the remote areas of Guatemala, Holcomb takes the equipment needed to host a picture day for all who are able to come. The village school usually offers a central gathering spot. “Everybody within a couple of miles is here it seems like,” said Chris Todd, marketing director at Northeastern REMC and the volunteer documenter of the Pena Roja project trip.
Those who live in these remote villages have rarely, if ever, seen images of themselves in a photograph. On this trip, Ron brought with him prints of the photos he took on his last trip to the region.
Imagine the emotion of seeing a photograph of your child for the first time. Or, having a photo of a parent to look back on many years from now. It’s the little things we take for granted. The purpose of this trip was to bring electricity, but the photographs are one more little thing we can offer.
Wednesday and Thursday were beautiful days on the mountain. Following a night of heavy rain, the sun came out very early Wednesday and helped dry everything out. Wednesday night the team watched a very bright thunderstorm across the mountain ridge to the west of the village. However, that storm didn’t bring any rain to Pena Roja that night.
Half of the village homes had electricity turned on Wednesday and the other half were turned on Thursday. This includes the widow who lives near the end of the line and the very hard-working older gentleman who has been heating water each day for the project team to take showers with. When the crew came down at the end of the day and informed him his dirt-floor home had power, he could not control his emotions.
There is still some work to do at the school to get that area back on. Friday, they plan to visit the Monumento area near the Mexican border to complete maintenance on a three-pole section. They will be taking a pole with them to that location. The views from this region are breathtaking. We expect Friday’s photos to be even more amazing.
Fortunately, rain has not impacted the crew’s progress to this point. The mountain roads in this area are rarely paved and are mostly dirt roads. When rainfall is significant, it makes not only the roads treacherous, it also makes the terrain difficult to navigate on foot. A couple of additional days were included in the trip’s schedule to accommodate rain delays.
There remain four homes that need the inside wiring completed. The team will also strive to get that project done before they leave the village.
The project team also noticed the villagers moving a chest freezer into one of the homes at which power had been turned on. The villagers have been anticipating this time for so very long and they were anxious to begin using modern appliances. This freezer will enable them to preserve things like meat so they can have a regular protein in their diets.
The project team is holding up well. They anticipated the terrain and elevation of at least 11,000 ft. to make this project challenging. Sore knees, backs and blisters have been a part of the adjustment, but the crew is taking it in stride like linemen do – they adapt and overcome!
It seems like each daily update has become a broken record, but it was another beautiful and productive day! The weather was perfect yet again and allowed the project team to accomplish a lot.
At the end of today, the team has just seven spans each of triplex and duplex wire to pull to be at a point of electrifying all of the homes in the village. However, they need some additional guy wire to finish that part of the project. They expect that guy wire to be delivered to the village overnight.
The team also anticipates having about a day and a half of work to complete at the school to increase the reliability at that location.
They are currently planning to tackle the maintenance work near the Mexican/Guatemalan border on Friday, assuming all continues to go well this week.
They are getting some significant rainfall in the village overnight, and that may significantly slow the pace of the work. The terrain of the village is tough, and the rain will make navigating it even more difficult.
The village residents have been working right alongside our project team throughout this build. They understand how impactful electricity will be for them, and are with our team every step of the way. And, although there’s a language barrier, the village children are taking it all in. Their smiles demonstrate their interest in this life-changing time in their lives.
The Project Indiana team had another amazing day on the mountain. The weather cleared up, the sun shone, and the temperature was in the 80s.
The ladies in the village did the team’s laundry and hung it out to dry this morning.
The crew hung another 11 spans of wire. Because of the terrain, the spans are ranging from 350-ft. to approximately 1,100-ft. For context, the average span in the U.S. is approximately 300 ft. The crew also hung the second transformer and dug some additional anchor holes today.
The crew also started some work around the village school, which already has a power source. However, the current line runs through some vegetation, which causes power outages. The crew will be moving the line to avoid the trees and, ultimately, avoid power outages they cause during storms.
The remainder of the triplex line was also delivered to the village today.
Project Indiana board member Ron Holcomb participated in a meeting of the local cooperative’s board.
And, a couple of members of the crew scouted some maintenance work on existing lines. The potential work is very near the Mexican/Guatemalan border and about an hour from Pena Roja. If the project team is able to finish the Pena Roja project in enough time, they will assist the local cooperative with some necessary maintenance.
The terrain is rough compared to what they’re used to in Indiana, specifically walking up and down the mountain many times a day – making for some sore toes and feet. At the end of the day, the team reports that they are loving the experience and are looking forward to future opportunities in Guatemala.
The project team was anxious to get to work, and they sure were productive today!
They spent their first night in the village last night, where it rained all night and the temperature hit about 60 degrees F. The crew started the day with a hot breakfast of eggs and beans, and a review of the day’s plans.
After breakfast, they loaded the trucks with supplies and headed out to begin pulling wire. Throughout the day, the crew pulled all of the wire they had on site and only have about four spans left to pull. Additional wire will be delivered to the village Monday.
This project incorporates two transformers, one of which is on a pole at the peak of the mountain at about 12,000 ft. That transformer was hung today as well.
Once all of the available wire was hung, the crew started hanging wire on poles. The crew got wire hung on approximately seven poles, with approximately three spans completely in the air.
The weather throughout the day was 75-80 degrees F and cloudy, but the sun made an appearance shortly before dinner. They’re expecting rain again overnight.
The team concluded the day feeling good about all they’d been able to accomplish in a short time. The hot showers and a hot meal were appreciated after a long and productive day.
And, the crew finally arrived in Pena Roja! The long-awaited shipping container with supplies caught up to the Project Indiana team in Huehuetenango this morning, which allowed the crew to complete its journey to the project site in Pena Roja, Guatemala.
The semi-truck with the shipping container arrived in Huehuetenango by mid-morning. The project team quickly got to work unloading the container onto smaller trucks for the rest of the trip up the mountain. The roads beyond Huehue are more primitive and generally unpaved, which makes them unable to reliably sustain a vehicle as heavy as a semi-truck. Distributing the supplies among several smaller vehicles made the rest of the trip possible.
Before departing Huehuetenango, several team members shopped for the perishable groceries they’ll need in the village. A cook accompanied the crew to the village and will prepare meals for them while they’re on the mountain. The coolers packed on the shipping container were needed to ensure a safe trip up the mountain.
They encountered more Guatemalan traffic on this leg of the trip, some of which is captured in the photo album for today.
The crew stopped in the village of Cuilco for lunch and to refuel. The town’s mayor joined the crew for lunch.
After a brief stop, they continued on their way and reached Pena Roja this evening. They will spend the remainder of the evening unloading the trucks and getting settled before resting for the night.
The crew is anxious to get to work! They anticipate they’ll be able to begin pulling wire first thing in the morning.
Fourteen Indiana electric cooperative lineworkers will travel to Guatemala in late April as part of an international initiative to bring electricity to a developing area in Guatemala.
“Project Indiana: Empowering Global Communities for a Better Tomorrow” will bring electricity to a part of the Central American country where none is available. The crew will spend April 27 through May 13 extending electric infrastructure in the village of Peña Roja along the western edge of Guatemala. When completed, approximately 26 homes will have electricity for the first time.
- Matt Bassett, Tipmont
- Kevin Bay, JCREMC
- Michael Bowman, Boone REMC
- Cody Campbell, South Central Indiana REMC
- Nathan Clayton, Clark County REMC
- Collin Crabtree, Decatur County REMC
- Ethan DeWitt, Northeastern REMC
- Austin Gearlds, NineStar Connect
- Tom Gettinger, Henry County REMC
- Clint Heeke, Southern Indiana Power
- Frank Leach, Carroll White REMC
- Terry Minic, Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative, Inc.
- Jason Morrison, Jackson County REMC
- Michael Newlin, Orange County REMC
- Joe Banfield, Indiana Electric Cooperatives
- Jamie Bell, NineStar Connect
- Ron Holcomb, Tipmont
- Chris Todd, Northeastern REMC
This is the Indiana electric cooperatives’ fifth trip to Guatemala. In August 2012, 28 Hoosier lineworkers from 17 of Indiana’s electric cooperatives, spent four weeks working across the mountainous terrain to bring electricity to 184 homes, a church and a school in three villages. In April 2015, 14 lineworkers battled extreme heat and the rugged land to bring electricity to 164 homes, a school and a church.
In 2017, 14 lineworkers endured temperature extremes to power 68 homes, a school, a church and a health clinic. And, on the last trip in 2019, 14 lineworkers brought electricity to nearly 90 homes, two churches and a school, and ensured that every home they wired for electricity had a properly vented wood-burning cooking stove installed to replace the open fires villagers have used for years.
Follow along the crew’s journey in Peña Roja by visiting ProjectIndiana.org/PenaRoja.
After a long day of travel, the Project Indiana team safely arrived in Guatemala on Thursday, April 27. Their journey included two flights and an hours-long drive to get to their first stop for the night.
The Project Indiana team left Indianapolis for Guatemala City early Thursday morning. After a layover in Houston where there was a short flight delay, they and all of their luggage safely arrived in Guatemala City. The team connected with Project Indiana’s in-country liaison, Hugo, for a late lunch.
The team picked up the rental vehicles (seven pick-up trucks and an SUV) and started the drive to Huehuetenango (pronounced way-way-ten-an-go), Guatemala, where they were scheduled to spend the night in a hotel. The team got to experience some of the vastly different driving experiences of Guatemala – from the gridlock traffic of Guatemala City to more mountainous roads, both of which require a steady hand! Check out the April 27 SmugMug album for some videos.
The hotel in Huehuetenango was a welcome sight after the team’s nearly 17-hour travel day. The hotel provided an opportunity for a good night of sleep, a hot shower and a good breakfast. Although, we hear a local rooster provided a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. They are also now in the Mountain Time Zone, which is two hours behind most of Indiana.
The team was originally scheduled to depart Friday morning for the project site – the village of Pena Roja. However, the team is going to spend another night in Huehuetenango to allow for the shipping container of supplies to meet them there. The container, which departed Indiana Feb. 1 with an estimated 27-day shipping time, has experienced some delays along the way. But, that all seems to have been resolved now and it’s in transit with the supplies the crew will need to bring electricity to these 26 families who’ve never had the modern convenience in their homes. It is expected to arrive in Huehue by Friday evening.
A few of the village residents will travel to Huehue and help the team unload the container and so they can move the supplies the rest of the way up the mountain together. Unfortunately, the mountain roads from this point forward will not sustain the weight and size of a semi-truck needed to move the full shipping container. Regardless of the size of the vehicle, it will be a slow drive.
The project team will also spend some time Friday purchasing groceries. The team will have a cook to prepare meals for them on the mountain, and these groceries will provide him with the necessary supplies for that task. The updated plan is for the team to travel Saturday to Pena Roja, which is about a four-hour drive from Huehue. There, they will get settled, unload the container, and assess the project. The village residents have already set the 26 poles and dug the anchor holes for the project. They’ve also wired the inside of each home, so when the project is complete the power will flow to their homes. The plan is for the team and residents to spend the first two days pulling wire to have it all in place and begin hanging it on poles from there.
Compared to past Project Indiana sites, San Jacinto has an advanced education system. The students have the opportunity to attend school through ninth grade. The primary and secondary school buildings each have three classrooms. And, there’s a computer lab just up the hill along the dirt and rocky road. The computer lab is home to eight antiquated Dell computers that have been powered by a generator until the Indiana lineworkers came.
The children are often malnourished and have poor dental health. They often drink contaminated water, preventive dental care is rare and a diet we’d considered balanced for our children is often unattainable. This leads to stunted development. And, if they’re hungry or don’t feel well, learning is difficult.
And, the children often don’t have the luxury of childhood. They start working almost as soon as they can walk. Everyone in the family is expected to work and contribute to the family’s subsistence livelihood. And, even when education could be a choice, labor is more valued so they go to work.
With the introduction of electricity, life should become easier and education will become a luxury they can afford. That corn they used to spend five hours a day grinding can now be done in 15 minutes. And, they can refrigerate it and use it another day. They’ll have light in their homes at night that will allow both adults and children to study after the sun goes down.
Not only do their homes have light now, but their dreams are seeing the light of day as well.