Do you remember what it was like when the lights were turned on for the first time in your home? Not many of us do. In reality, today the only time we don’t take electricity for granted is when the lights go out and we’re left in the dark – and we worry about food spoiling and how to charge our electronic devices so we can stay connected.
On the other hand, millions of people around the world still live without access to reliable and affordable electricity, very much like our parents or grandparents did 75 years ago in rural America. Because the electric cooperative model was so successful in lifting millions of Americans out of poverty, it’s part of our co-op mission to share that wealth of knowledge with communities in countries that need help.
NRECA International, with the assistance of America’s electric co-ops, provides people in developing countries with access to reliable electricity, resulting in increased agricultural productivity, new jobs and a better quality of life.
Volunteers from electric co-ops are lighting up the world
More than 1,000 electric co-op volunteers across the U.S. – along with about 5,000 directors, managers, office staff, engineers and linemen in other countries – have been trained in establishing and maintaining electric cooperatives. A major part of their mission goes beyond establishing power in other parts of the world; they also sustain it by implementing the cooperative business model.
During 2013, NRECA International recruited several volunteer linemen from Arkansas and Alabama to leave their homes for a few weeks to travel to Guatemala. Several groups were sent over a span of 18 months, and while they were there, big things happened in eight small Guatemalan villages. After years of waiting, light bulbs illuminated homes and schools for more than a thousand villagers, and the promise of a better life came into sight. For the first time, their world became brighter and bigger.
NRECA International has created strong and permanent relationships between local utilities in Guatemala and our member co-ops. It started with a grant from the U.S. government to establish the Electricity for Progress Trust Fund. Since its creation in 2000, the trust fund has distributed 100 loans totaling more than $5 million to finance investments in grid-based and off-grid projects throughout rural areas of Guatemala. Over the years, many electric co-op volunteers have traveled to Guatemala – often leaving their country for the first time – to light up homes and lives.
Earlier this year, in the southern part of sun-drenched Haiti, NRECA Inter-national staffers counted ballots for a new electric co-op’s first general assembly, where members chose their first board of directors. In northern Haiti, Daniel Sanders, a former Mid-South Synergy co-op lineman from Navasota, Tex., fulfilled one of his biggest dreams. He learned a few years ago how putting a single streetlight in the middle of nowhere can give people hope, and now he works for NRECA International helping build distribution grids in Haiti.
And in South Sudan, Randy Erickson, chief mechanic for Kodiak Electric Association in Kodiak, Alaska, found himself sitting under the hot sun with a crippled Sudanese boy, humming church hymns during a Sunday service. He saw firsthand how helping these communities get access to electricity can make a big difference in the lives of people like that little boy.
Co-ops are sharing their knowledge
Making stories like these happen is routine work for the NRECA International staff. Its mission began 50 years ago when President John F. Kennedy witnessed the signing of a cooperative agreement between NRECA and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The original purpose was – and co-tinues to be – to share with developing countries around the world the lessons electric co-ops learned in electrifying rural America. Since then, NRECA International and many electric co-ops have shared the successes and expertise of the cooperative business model with developing countries.
Much of it started in the Philippines, more than 40 years ago, when NRECA International helped the Philippines’ National Electrification Administration establish electric cooperatives. Since then, 119 electric co-ops have been established, providing electricity to more than 80 percent of the rural population in the country.
NRECA’s relationship with the Philippines remains strong. This was evident when the strongest typhoon to ever hit the planet landed on the shores of this archipelago November 2013. Hours after the disaster, NRECA International launched a fundraising campaign to restore power in the affected areas. In 3 months, funds raised by U.S. electric co-ops and individual donors totaling $100,000 were presented to 11 electric cooperatives devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.
In 1977, another relationship began, in Asia. NRECA International helped Bangladesh’s Rural Electrification Board build what many now regard as the developing world’s most successful rural electrification program. Today, 70 electric cooperatives provide electricity to approximately 48,700 rural villages, helping more than 45 million people improve their quality of life.
During 2010 in Haiti, NRECA Inter-national’s volunteers were the first in the power sector to respond to the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. They supported relief efforts, connect-ed hospitals and health clinics and helped begin the longer process of re-constructing the Haitian grid and its outlying power systems. The work in Haiti continues today in different regions of the country, bringing reliable and affordable electricity to various communities.
To this date, NRECA International has benefited more than 100 million people in 42 countries. To learn more about the work of the organization, visit http://www.nreca.coop/what-we-do/international-programs/.