By Alaina Bartel
On February 6, 2016, the village of La Soledad in Guatemala had four scrawny cows. When Rick Bowers, journeyman lineman for Firelands Electric Cooperative, left 18 days later, they only had three cows.
Bowers and 16 others volunteered to travel to the small, rural farm village in Central America with the goal of bringing electricity to the developing area. When that goal was accomplished, it was time for a celebration.
“At the end when we were wrapping up they killed one of the cows to have a big barbecue type thing,” Bowers said.
Most of the residents who live in La Soledad are farmers, according to Bowers, but their farms are nothing like the thousands of acres of farmland here in the Firelands. The villagers were working with two acres of land at the most, and the small field was riddled with very large rocks.
Bowers said the local farmers had to chip away the rocks to find dirt here and there to work with, but there were still huge rocks in between their crops.
“There was a guy, if I guessed he was probably in his 70’s, and that’s all he did from the time the sun came up, until the sun went down. He was out there with a hoe. It was pretty amazing,” he said.
Since the 17 men were visiting a place that was already scarce when it came to food, they had their own accommodations.
“We actually took a chef with us, a local guy from Guatemala. He was pretty good with limited supplies,” Bowers said. “Everything they eat has onions and peppers and I can’t stand onions or peppers. So I lost a little bit of weight when I was there.”
Along with crops, La Soledad had several animals in the village. However, they weren’t gated or contained in any way. Bowers said there were herds of sheep climbing up hills, pigs tied to trees, donkeys in houses, and wild turkeys were like pets there.
“Everybody was told to take earplugs and I didn’t understand why until I got there. Well the dogs and the roosters have no sense of time apparently,” he laughed.
The lineman flew out of Columbus International Airport and arrived in Guatemala City, Guatemala only to drive 11 hours to La Soledad. The interesting part was, Guatemala is about the same size as Ohio, according to Bowers, but none of the roads were straight so it was a difficult journey.
Bowers and the other men lived in the school house while they were there for two and a half weeks, but noticed there was something missing upon their arrival.
“It’s a one room school house. The first week we were there, we had no electricity. Obviously, that we got to first,” he laughed.
To shower, the locals boiled large buckets of water and handed it to the men. They had to mix cold water into the boiling water to get the temperature just right, and Bowers said that took some getting used to.
He said a typical home in La Soledad had wood siding, no insulation, no heat, and you could see through the walls. There were dirt floors inside and outside, and the beds were on the ground- not much was on the floor. He said everything they owned was up high and the children’s toys would be hanging on the walls. Bowers believes they did this because of the animals in the village, but he’s not quite sure.
When the lineman arrived, they went up an 8,800 foot mountain to install power lines to the 75 houses, which was the entire village. They ended up wiring the insides of the houses with four lights, two outlets, and two receptacles.
Bowers said most of the poles for the electric lines were in holes in the ground when they got there, which were dug by the locals hands. They cleared the path for the poles with their hands, too, using a machete to wipe trees out of the way.
The 400 pound poles were delivered at the bottom of the mountain and had to be drug to the top, which Bowers said they used trucks for and had to carry at times. He said the locals would stick their head in the holes to chip away at the rocks to get the poles to fit. It showed how much they desired electricity.
On their last day in the village, the locals held a barbecue and the lineman participated in the celebration, handing out t-shirts, toothbrushes, toothpaste, candy, shoes, and blankets.
When it was time for the men to leave, they saw the locals hauling refrigerators up the hills, and a church had donated a computer to the school house which was already up and running. The students were in awe of the technology, but the youngsters weren’t the only ones.“There was a lady, she looked about 80, but she was actually 60. I talked to her a little bit,” Bowers said. “That was her goal in life, was to get electricity. She finally got it.”