The cooperative business model proved a great success in bringing electricity to rural people in the United States. But would it work for those living without electricity in other parts of the world?
That was the question the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association sought to answer 50 years ago when it established the NRECA International Programs. The new agency was designed to export a particularly American idea, that a cooperative could provide an essential service when and where other forms of business refused.
The program began in November 1962 when NRECA and the newly established U.S. Agency for International Development signed an agreement in an Oval Office ceremony witnessed by President John F. Kennedy. The idea was to share with developing countries the lessons learned by U.S. electric cooperatives as they solved the problems of building power lines in hostile terrain, finding new sources of wholesale power and creating new engineering standards that lowered expenses.
Flash forward 50 years, and the work of NRECA International has benefited more than 110 million people in 42 nations. For these people, life has changed for the better. They now have access to better education, improved health, clean water, refrigeration and greater economic opportunity.
One big reason for the success of these programs is the volunteer efforts of electric cooperative employees, including many from Missouri. These people have given up their vacation days, left their families behind and traveled to places such as Guatemala, Haiti and the Sudan to share their job skills with those less fortunate people.
My friend and NRECA President Mel Coleman is a huge supporter of this international effort. The stories he has shared with me warm my heart.
Many of these volunteers have come home a little bit lighter in their luggage, Mel says, having left behind their tools so their newfound friends would have something with which to maintain those new power lines. Others have passed the hat to buy a refrigerator for a family that now has electricity, but not the funds to take advantage of all it has to offer.
In August, a team of Missourians and their counterparts from Oklahoma head to Bolivia for a new venture that is a first for both states. Where previous trips have involved a few volunteers, this is an all-out group effort that will result in turning on the lights for Bolivians in two rural communities.
The effort will include an electrical engineer provided by the Oklahoma systems and an electrician from Missouri. These two will ensure the grid is designed for future growth and that individual homes are ready to take electricity.
Missouri’s role in the project was first suggested by White River Valley Electric Cooperative Manager Chris Hamon. Chris represents Missouri on the NRECA Board of Directors. He learned first-hand of the good work being done through this program from his own linemen who have been involved.
You can help sponsor the work these caring people intend to do through a GoFundMe site set up by Intercounty Electric Cooperative Manager Aaron Bradshaw and his staff. Aaron, another strong supporter of the International effort, was one of the first to make a donation to the campaign.
Our goal is to raise $5,000 in 60 days. If successful, we will not only support the effort to build new power lines where there were none before, but we will also be able to provide lights and other electrical equipment for people such as Ana Maria Escobar, who lives in the Dos de Junio community.
“Living without light is like being blind,” Ana told NRECA International officials who helped organize the effort. She looks forward to her children being able to read at night, to refrigeration to keep critical medicines from going bad and to clean water.
Please join me in supporting this important effort. Let’s let these Missourians and Oklahomans know we are behind them 100 percent as they give from their heart to share their skills with the poorest of the poor. Even a small donation can have a huge impact.
You can find more information and make a donation at www.gofundme.com/mobolivia.
– Barry Hart