By Zuraidah Hoffman
Last year, 76 volunteer linemen from 20 states represented America’s electric cooperatives while traveling around the globe to bring light to rural communities. For many of the men, women and children who live in these areas, it was the first time they ever had electricity in their homes. This also was the first time children didn’t have to read by candlelight at night – and women could safely walk home under bright streetlights. And, for the first time, these communities could step out of subsistence living – just like rural America did 75 years ago.
No other industry in the U.S. sends its volunteer rank-and-file into remote corners of the developing world to make such a profound difference. For example, linemen worked in the mountains of Guatemala without modern equipment to install power lines.
When exhausted and proud linemen returned from Haiti after spending weeks with communities that have very little, their stories and newfound perspectives inspired many others to be like them. These volunteers became passionate and articulate ambassadors for their electric co-ops, who now are looking for the next generation of hardworking and dedicated members of the co-op family.
And when the volunteers returned from their travels with realizations that they have many things in common with the families in these small villages, they got a taste of what their grandparents must have experienced more than 7 decades ago. The seventh cooperative principle – Concern for Community – came to life and became very real.
Since 1962, NRECA International has provided people in developing countries with access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity. The NRECA International Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and is supported solely through voluntary donations. More than 300 electric cooperatives and many private organizations contribute time, skills, money and materials to dozens of projects in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. When help is needed, the foundation recruits volunteers from electric co-ops to lend their technical expertise for ongoing construction efforts for electric utilities and extending power lines to rural communities.
For the 110 million people who have benefitted from the work of the foundation and its volunteers, life has changed for the better. And for us at home, these volunteer linemen are family and role models.
Zuraidah Hoffman writes on international consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.