An international program through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has been sending resources overseas to get electricity in impoverished areas for 50 years now, but this is the first time one of Pella Cooperative Electric’s own linemen has stepped up to join the cause.
Pella Cooperative Electric Assocation’s (PCEA) Journeyman Lineman Randy Reineke took two weeks of vacation last December and traveled down to Caracol, Haiti where he joined other lineman from a Minnesota cooperative to help bring electricity to homes that have never been blessed with electricity before.
NRECA’s international program’s slogan is “Electrifying the world…..one village at a time.” The program works to send co-op volunteers, usually linemen, CEOs and engineering managers, on a two to three week trip, and Reineke wanted to be involved.
“I figured I could help somebody in need. I thought it would be kind of neat to be one of those people that finally got to electrify a household for the first time, someone that’s never had it before,” Reineke commented.
A new power plant has just been built in Caracol, and Reineke along with other workers ran REC specified line from the power plant out to the homes of Caracol, providing power to some homes for the very first time. In Caracol, there has been no reliable power source. If a home had power, it would come on sporadically and never more than 5 hours at a time. A home could not have the main household appliances you see in the United States – refrigerators or microwaves - so they had no way to keep any food cold.
“It’s amazing of what all they can do without the amenities we take for granted,” Reineke said.
The main things the people of Caracol wanted electricity for was for a light in their home, a refrigerator to keep their food cold and a means to charge their cell phone. A main spot in the community had a generator, so the Haitians would congregate at the local spot to charge their cell phones and have light at nighttime.
The goal of the trip was to bring electricity to those homes who have never had it before. Working through the language barrier, Reineke and the other linemen ran REC specified line from the newly built power plant out to homes so they can have electricity 24/7.
Happy to help bring electricity to their homes for the first time, many of the locals jumped in to help dig holes for the poles. They also taught some of the Haitians how to set poles and transformers without a boom truck.
“To have brought them power that would stay on an extended amount of time, you could tell right away it was helping them,” Reineke said.
Especially for the fisherman, having electricity is a huge help. They can now keep fish cold for their own family and be able to sell it.
“While you were there, you got an appreciation for the people. They’re working hard to put food on the table,” Randy said.
Reineke learned that a lot of the locals in Caracol worked at a local factory that makes t-shirts for U.S. stores like Kohl’s and Target. They get paid around $5 per day and for every minute they were late to work they lost an hour of pay. So it wasn’t uncommon to see Haitians running to the factory trying to get to work on time.
At the end of Reineke’s trip, the power plant sent out their first round of bills to 27 families. Most of the Haitians have never had a bill before, so representatives from the power company spoke to each of the families and explained their bill. They had to pay around $10.50 to get set up on electricity and will pay around $10 per month plus a facility charge. Transformers were not provided by the power company, so it was likely to see a transformer sitting inside one of the homes.
“Hopefully we set them up to better their lives,” Reineke said.
The NRECA continues to send linemen down to Haiti and other countries to help electrify cities. Would Reineke do it again?
“In a heartbeat,” he said.