Platte County native Jake Fain recently got an opportunity to light up the lives of the residents of a remote village in Bolivia.
The residents of the tiny village of Chapasirca, located north of Cochabamba in central Bolivia, have never had electricity, so over the last few months teams of volunteer linemen from electric co-ops across Missouri and Oklahoma have spent time there installing power lines. The mountainous area, bordered by the Isiboro Secure National Park, is also home to several protected indigenous tribes. Sparsely populated and barely paved, the villages tucked into the hillsides are slow to progress.
Fain, a Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative journeyman lineman, was selected to join with other linemen from around Missouri to hang power lines to the village of Chapasirca for two weeks in early February.
“It’s not every day that your company asks you to go to South America and build power lines,” Fain said.
A Platte County R-3 graduate, he has worked for Platte-Clay for four years and jumped at the opportunity to not only travel for work, but to help the villagers.
The program is a cooperative effort among local co-ops, the Association of Missouri Electrical Cooperatives and the National Rural Utilities Finance Corporation. Villagers and workers for a local non-profit utility worked to set the poles before the six-man crew arrived to string the wire.
“Everyone was willing to work and help out,” Fain said, although first getting there and adjusting to the culture — and the elevation at about 12,000 feet above sea level — were the first obstacles of the job.
Equipped with a crew leader, a translator and workers from the local utility to lead the way, the men quickly got to work after their seven-hour flight.
“The people were very happy, very nice — I never felt in harm’s way,” he said, with the possible exception of traveling the roadways. “It’s beautiful country, but there were no guard rails in the mountains so that was a little dicey.”
While Fain had traveled abroad before and spoke a little Spanish, he quickly learned South American Spanish is a bit different from the dialect spoken in Mexico.
“You’d say ‘hola’ and they would look at you like you’re crazy,” he said.
Platte-Clay communications director Cheryl Barnes said the utility’s involvement in the program for the first time this year was part of Platte-Clay’s efforts to reach out into the world.
“We saw this as an opportunity to share the resources we have outside of the community —and this time it was with the international community,” Barnes said.
The linemen worked from sunup to sundown, climbing poles without the assistance of lift equipment and pulling the power lines up to be mounted.
People from the village came out to help them every day, he said, with the linemen following the instructions from local utility workers. Fain noted that the standards were very different down there, but it was due in part to the terrain, where lines had to be stretched over deep gorges and across long distances.
Each night, the crew slept in the local unheated schoolhouse, three men to a room.
It wasn’t all work, however, as Fain and the other volunteers had the opportunity to visit historic churches and the Cristo de la Concordia statue and play soccer with the village youngsters after the end of the work day.
“I was impressed at how happy they were with the little they had,” Fain said. “They really enjoyed the simple things.”
The men also brought the children new school supplies and soccer balls.
“It was a great experience,” Fain said. “I made some good friends. You’re around all those people constantly and we made a good team. I would go back in a heartbeat.”
Fain and the other program participants will be recognized in Jefferson City, Mo., on Monday, April 9 in recognition of Lineman Appreciation Day.
“A lot of people take linemen for granted, but they’re the ones out in the snow and rain and sleet fixing the lines,” Barnes said of the state appreciation day.
Platte-Clay will have its next opportunity to participate in the program in 2020. Lineman Brad Mick was Platte-Clay’s alternate volunteer for the February trip.