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Author: Mandy Barth

Their weakness is always the children.

As with every Project Indiana electrification project, our team of lineworkers is focused on the seemingly insurmountable task ahead of them. They’re driven to get it done safely and are willing to work long days – and often get it done ahead of schedule. San Jacinto was no different.

There is another similar thread that runs through every project: the children of these villages capture the hearts of even the most hardened linemen. And, the San Jacinto children left the same deep impression.

The linemen are humbled by the children. How happy they are with so little. Their joy and spirit, the way they follow and watch the linemen, ready to help and play and learn. They often remind the linemen of their own children back in the states – curious, eager for attention and innocent. But, the Guatemalan children live a much harder life. Just as they would for their own children, the linemen can’t help but want more for them – a better life than their parents have had.

That makes the project team work even harder. They demand more of themselves than anyone ever asks of them. They do it back home and they do it on a mountaintop. It wasn’t enough for them to just give their time. They also dug deep in their wallets for the children.

They collected $1,000 and bought new shoes for every child in the village. 156 pairs and then the market threw in another three dozen pairs for a total of 192. And, they still had money left so they bought two pinatas, fireworks and 10 soccer balls.

They’d been challenged to a soccer match in the large, flat field behind the Catholic Church. The Hoosiers nipped the home squad 1-0 on a goal-scoring kick by Northeastern REMC’s Brent Buckles. Must’ve been the new soccer balls.

The lights are on.

For the first time ever, the village of San Jacinto, Guatemala, has electricity and the lights are on in 90 homes, a school, two churches and a pump house.

To celebrate the occasion, the residents of the village hosted an “inauguration” ceremony today with the Project Indiana as the featured honorees. They were escorted into the village in parade-like style, followed by the national anthems of both countries, and remarks by officials.

The village residents will learn over time how to use electricity to improve their quality of life and to implement modern conveniences that we all take for granted. The things they have to work so very hard to accomplish and require great effort will become easier and they will develop new solutions and ways to support themselves. They’ve always had dreams and now they’re starting to develop plans.

Water and fire

Last night, the mayor of the Chahal municipality (a municipality is more like a county in the United States) invited representatives of Project Indiana to a council meeting after visiting San Jacinto during the day. Several representatives from the village also attended.

The council and the residents thanked the Project Indiana team for helping to bringing electricity to the village. They described the new lights after sunset as “beautiful.”

Project Indiana Board Chair Ron Holcomb offered to purchase a new electric water pump for the village so they can again have access to water within the village. In return, the village residents agreed to put new wood-fired cook stoves with ventilator pipes in the kitchens.

They currently cook over open fires inside the homes. The village residents have only ever known cooking with a wood fire and it will be very difficult to to change that. But, the ventilation afforded with a stove pipe will be a vast improvement for the indoor air quality of these residents.

A day of work…and recreation

The Project Indiana team worked until about Noon today and then spent the afternoon on a little rest and recreation.

The San Jacinto area is home to a beautiful natural attraction – several waterfalls. These are depicted on a map in a couple of the photos posted today. These waterfalls are just downstream from the hydroelectric generating plant that powers the rural areas of the region, including San Jacinto.

The project team also shared a bit of Hoosier recreation with their new Guatemalan friends. They worked together to make cornhole boards from scrap wood and the mad skills of village resident with a chainsaw. Another village resident used old jeans to stitch bean bags. And, now they have cornhole games in San Jacinto.

Installation and education

The guys worked a full day Saturday, heading out as soon as they finished 6:30 breakfast and worked until 6 to complete the installation of all primary, neutral and triplex wires. They still need to complete the service drop to the meter boxes and then to the homes of each of the village residents that are a part of this project, but are working ahead of schedule.

Project Indiana Board Chair and Tipmont REMC CEO Ron Holcomb presented a “co-op utility sustainability 101” class to six directors from 13 communities in the local cooperative association, in addition to others from the area who were interested in learning about cooperatives. Plans are also being discussed for additional in-depth classes.

Saturday was sunny with temperatures in the mid- to high 80s with high humidity.

They’re driven to work

Task-oriented by nature, lineworkers are driven to accomplish what they have before them – no matter how big the job seems. The Project Indiana line team is no different.

Friday they strung another 10 spans of secondary triplex, seven spans of primary line and neural, connected multiple houses and wired many more homes. And, to no one’s surprise, there’s buzz about possibly finishing this monumental task ahead of schedule.

Project Indiana Board Chair and Tipmont REMC CEO Ron Holcomb will present to the local electric cooperative’s board of directors Saturday morning.

Steady progress Thursday

Joe Banfield, Indiana Electric Cooperatives, and his “assistants” ready line for installation.

The project team made steady progress again Thursday. A total of 36 homes are now wired and secondary line has been pulled for most of the homes. Another pole is being set Friday.

Thursday’s weather started off in the 70s and was breezy and partly cloudy, then after another light rain it stayed overcast and got pretty humid.

Brent Buckles, Northeastern REMC, shared some gifts with the local school children. Brent’s wife is a teacher at a Fort Wayne Montessori school and her students sent some gifts for the San Jacinto school children. Brent took a few photos of the students to share with the American students, and then showed the photos to the San Jacinto students. Many residents of the village have never seen themselves in photographs.

“We kicked…”

Village residents and Project Indiana team members work together to roll a new spool of secondary line into place.

One of the project team members summed up Wednesday’s work with a simple, “we kicked a##!”

The project team is obviously happy with the progress they’ve made and they’re eager to get back at it each day. Wednesday they wired the inside of 15 more homes, for a total of 21.

Wednesday they also pulled 34 spans of secondary line, which will run from the transformers to the homes. Because the load is small, only five transformers are necessary to power 92 homes. The heavier, coated service lines will run below the primary lines along the main road running through San Jacinto.

Two spans of secondary line had to be pulled in to the steep hills above the village. At the top, both spans took right angle turns to the left. One crossed a gully, the other a shallow ravine planted with corn that included some outcrops of rocks.

The temperatures Wednesday were in the low 80s, but the humidity was very high. It varied from overcast, light rain, to partly cloudy.

Thursday morning, they were planning to make the 30-minute drive from the hotel to the village about 7 a.m. The village residents were setting one more pole the project team felt was needed between the very first pole off the power supply and the second.

Line goes up

Today, the Project Indiana team began pulling and putting up line. Starting from the pole at the Church in the center of the San Jacinto project, two crews worked in opposite directions, pulling six spans each, 13 total, and installing primary line.

They also installed three transformers with ropes and pulleys by tying the end to the front of a pickup truck and then backing it up to hoist the transformer.

The team completed the inside wiring on six homes.

It was partly cloudy and in the 80s with high humidity and brief rain showers peppering the day.

This area is on Mountain Time, or two hours behind most of Indiana. This leaves the project team anxious to get to the project site while the sun is up but the temperatures are lower. The plan for Wednesday is to start around 6:30 a.m.

The work begins

The project team attended a town hall meeting with the village residents so they could officially meet one another and everyone could learn a little more about the work planned for the next couple of weeks.

After a good night’s rest at Hacienda Tijax, the Project Indiana team loaded back up for the rest of the trip up the mountain. After a couple-hour drive, they arrived at their home for the next two weeks: Hotel Villa Santa Elena.

And, then the team headed to a stop near the project site to visit a small hydroelectric generating facility on a stream that’s not far above the area’s natural attraction: a wide picturesque waterfall.

After lunch, they finished the trip to San Jacinto. The first order of business was to check through the supplies stored in a small warehouse near the village Church and to organize the tools and hardware.

The project team attended a town hall meeting with the village residents so they could officially meet one another and everyone could learn a little more about the work planned for the next couple of weeks.

In addition bringing electricity to the village, the project team will be wiring the inside of homes. In exchange for this, those who receive inside wiring have committed to purchase a small wood stove with a chimney to adequately vent the smoke outside of the home. This small step will greatly improve the overall health and eyesight of the village residents.

Following the meeting, the Project Indiana team inspected the poles that were set before their arrival and set the pole anchors the villagers had dug.

Tuesday, March 26, marks the first full day on the project site and line stringing will begin.

A cellular phone signal is not available at the project site. A signal is available at the hotel in the evenings, but an internet connection is not.