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Simple Gifts: One Project Indiana lineman’s family shares in his sacrifice of time and the joy in his coming home

Isaac Harp missed his youngest daughter’s fifth birthday. He didn’t even call.

But it wasn’t because the Kosciusko REMC journeyman lineman forgot her birthday or was too busy to be bothered. Quite the contrary: he was another world away — in remote Guatemala on the third Project Indiana building trip in March 2017.

Sharing light and hope: Project Indiana thankful for those who make electricity possible at home and abroad

This Thanksgiving, Project Indiana is thankful for the dedicated line crews who provide reliable electricity to our homes and for those who have helped bring electricity and hope to rural villagers in Guatemala,1,800 miles away.

Making connections: Project Indiana is more than just connecting power lines

In 2012, when Project Indiana first put the boots of Hoosier electric cooperative lineworkers on the ground, up the poles and into the clouds in Guatemala, it was to connect poor rural villages to electricity. And while that was a major first step in creating new hopes and dreams for the villagers, it was just the first step.

After that first trip, Project Indiana, which evolved into a non-profit organization, quickly realized that simply giving a proverbial fish to people in areas of such pervasive poverty and limited education wasn’t going to be enough nourishment to sustain prosperity. In the places where poverty has no end and wealth has no beginning, other connections were needed to help the villagers succeed.

The first day of better days ahead for rural Guatemalans

Aura Quib Cruz sat beside the chain link fence in her front yard that ran alongside the main gravel road through San Jacinto. In the shade of a large palm tree on the western edge of her yard, she shelled the kernels from ears of corn by hand into a large plastic tub. Empty cobs piled up at her feet.

To help ease the tedious mundane task that took hours, she set up her workstation there — as if to give herself a front row seat for a historic moment in the lives of her family and fellow villagers.

Memories remain from life-changing experience

Eighteen months ago, 18 Indiana electric cooperative linemen and support personnel returned home from rural Guatemala after bringing electricity to a village that had never had electricity before. It was the fourth Project Indiana trip to rural and remote Guatemala since 2012.

“Project Indiana: Empowering Global Communities for a Better Tomorrow” is a non-profit organization formed by Indiana’s electric cooperatives with the vision of bringing electricity to developing rural communities around the globe and providing other ongoing support for the residents there to enjoy better, healthier lives.

Seeing Needs; Meeting Needs

Water and electricity, they say, don’t mix. 

The “they” who say that, fortunately, didn’t accompany Project Indiana’s 2019 trip to Guatemala.

Fourteen Indiana electric cooperative linemen and four project coordinators and support staff members spent two weeks last spring building power lines to the village of San Jacinto, and wiring homes and buildings. The day after turning on electricity in the village, they also fixed a water pumping station that had been inoperable for several months.

Hearts and Soles

An electric cooperative lineman’s shoes are hard to fill, especially when there’s a pair of heavy metal climbing hooks attached to them. But his heart? That’s a different matter.

Each of the four Project Indiana construction trips into rural Guatemala has brought electricity to villages that never have had electricity before. Electricity was Project Indiana’s mission. But each trip has produced its own example of linemen’s giant hearts filled to overflowing with compassion. On each trip, the linemen have dug deep into their own pockets to meet additional needs they’ve recognized in the hardscrabble villages where the people have so little.

Clearing the Air

Hilaria Chub stands nearly silhouetted just inside the kitchen entryway beside her cooking stove where she is baking. A small wood fire, centered atop a piece of corrugated sheet metal, fills the dusky room with gray smoke that circles around before escaping through the door and openings in the walls just below the thatched roof.

Eyes strain trying to adjust to the glare of the sunny afternoon beyond the door outside and the darkness and the smoke inside. The stove appears to be nothing but a large box with an elevated surface about two feet up off the packed dirt floor. Ashes and charred wood cover the flat surface.

Sweat Equity

The lean Guatemalan wielding the machete couldn’t be missed in his cardinal red T-shirt against the thick green brush. Leading the way up a steep hillside, he quickly cleared a path for the crew of volunteers pulling the heavy electrical service line. Together, they trudged through the tall weeds and stalks of corn to the pole beside the next home in line.

Later, that same afternoon, there he was again. Now, joining others, he helped pull more line along the main gravel road from the center of San Jacinto to the farthest poles of Project Indiana’s 2019 build in east-central Guatemala. The two-week project, which electrified some 90 homes, two churches and a school, included 14 Indiana electric cooperative lineworkers and four coordinators and support staff.

Powering Up

The day always started earlier for Macario Choc Cucul than for most in his little village of San Jacinto in east central Guatemala.

Every morning at daybreak, Macario left his wife, 18-year-old daughter, and 7-year-old son, and motored along the rutted gravel and rocky roads between San Jacinto and his brother’s home about a half hour away.

Macario and his family own and operate what might be considered the largest convenience store in San Jacinto. Their store, which doubles as their home, sits right by the sign that welcomes visitors along the only gravel road through town. And it’s fortuitously situated at the “T” where a dirt and rocky road takes off up over a steep hill to the village school and other homes and a church farther up. It’s a popular gathering place for the local men to visit while having a cold soda. And it’s the last or first stopping off spot for kids walking to and from school for snacks — like chips, ice cream, or a squeeze tube of frozen flavored custard or ice.

San Jacinto’s Power Supply

In April 2019, 18 Indiana electric cooperative lineworkers and staff returned from rural Guatemala after extending power lines into the tiny village of San Jacinto. It was the fourth trip of a continuing initiative, “Project Indiana: Empowering Global Communities for a Better Tomorrow,” that began in 2012.

The crew spent just over two weeks building power lines and wiring about 90 homes, two churches and a school campus in the eastern department of Alta Verapaz.

But before Project Indiana lineworkers can put boots on the ground to build power lines on any of their trips, the electricity has to be there. The power supply for San Jacinto was a micro hydropower generating station.

Matters of the Heart

Not one of the 18 Indiana electric cooperative lineworkers or support crew who traveled to Guatemala in spring 2019 as part of the continuing “Project Indiana” initiative spoke Q’eqchí, the indigenous Mayan language where they traveled. But they understood the gratefulness of the villagers of San Jacinto who spoke with their hearts.

The universal symbol for love and affection was displayed to them time and again by villagers — just as it had been on the three previous trips Project Indiana has made to Guatemala since 2012. Through both the symbol and words translated from Q’eqchí and Spanish, the heartfelt thanks warmed the hearts of the Hoosiers who came to extend power lines into their eastern Guatemala village.