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Jackson EMC Linemen Help Bring Electricity to Village in Guatemala

Four linemen from Jackson EMC volunteered with other linemen from Georgia’s electric cooperatives to bring electricity to a remote village in north central Guatemala.

In just 17 days, the linemen built four miles of electric lines to bring power to Sesaltul, a village that had never experienced the benefits of electricity. The linemen brought electricity to approximately 90 households, two schools and two churches.

Jackson EMC journeymen linemen Pete Arteaga, Ben Campbell, Michael Fraser and Corey Willard joined forces with linemen from Cobb EMC, Coweta-Fayette EMC, GreyStone Power Corporation, Habersham EMC, Snapping Shoals EMC and Walton EMC. The project was sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International Foundation.

Arteaga, a Jackson EMC lineman in Gainesville, said the project initially seemed daunting – until the volunteer linemen from the participating cooperatives learned more about each other. “Once we started working together and realized what each other knew and were capable of, and what each person was good at doing, that really helped out a lot,” he said.

The linemen didn’t have the benefit of the tools and equipment they typically use for line work.

“Here at home, we have bucket trucks and line trucks and various battery tools. There—there’s nothing. It’s all on hooks and hand tools and very physical,” said Willard, a Jackson EMC lineman in Jefferson.

Their work included building power lines along paved roads in Sesaltul. However, the real challenge arose when they extended electric service to homes, navigating through difficult terrain along trails in heavy vegetation leading to the villagers’ homes. Local villagers helped the linemen find each home.

“I’d say 99 percent of the huts were dirt floor,” said Fraser, a Jackson EMC lineman in Lawrenceville. “They had bamboo walls or big palm leaves [on roofs]. And some of the huts had tin roofs with block walls. They slept in mainly hammocks or a makeshift little bed.”

Each village home received four lights, two switches and two outlets. Turning on the lights in the homes for the first time was an unforgettable and heartwarming experience.

“You would flip the breaker on and turn the switch on and they would look at the light, just look at it. Then, immediately they would go over there and turn it off like they were going to run out of power if they left it on,” Fraser said.

For Arteaga, the experience also brought back memories of his childhood. “When I was growing up as a kid, I didn’t have electricity until I was 9 years old,” he said. “So, I knew what it was going to feel like for these people. It was very emotional for me because I was anxious to get it done so they could experience what I went through.”

Campbell, a Jackson EMC lineman in Neese, said having electricity in their homes will make it easier for villagers to experience modern life. “There was a lot of joy, a lot of smiles,” he said. “You could almost see it in their faces the ideas they had and what they could do in their homes now [with electricity] and the things they can do with their lives moving forward.” 

Prior to the project in Guatemala, Jackson EMC employees also contributed to the efforts to support the community in Sesaltul.

“In addition to the four guys who actually went to Guatemala to work on the project, we knew that the rest of our employees would want to help if given an opportunity,” said Tommy Parker, Jackson EMC’s vice president of operations.

Employees at the cooperative raised almost $7,000 for supplies and equipment at two schools in the village, including ceiling fans the volunteer linemen installed at the schools during the project.

“I will never forget this opportunity and taking part in it,” Campbell said. “It was a long 17 days. It was well worth the experience.”

Since 1962, NRECA International has empowered more than 160 million people worldwide to improve their quality of life by providing them access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity. The NRECA International Fund has helped establish more than 250 electric utilities and electric cooperatives in 48 counties.

Jackson Electric Membership Corporation, the largest electric cooperative in Georgia and one of the largest in the nation, is headquartered 50 miles northeast of Atlanta in Jefferson, Ga. The cooperative serves more than 259,000 meters on 14,000 miles of energized wire. For more information, visit jacksonemc.com.

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