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Volunteer from Firelands Electric participates in humanitarian effort

• Updated Mar 28, 2018 at 12:38 PM

NEW LONDON — Firelands Electric Cooperative’s journeyman lineman Chris Rowland returned home from Guatemala on March 22 after assisting with the Ohio’s electric cooperatives’ Project Ohio team.

Rowland was one of 17 co-op linemen from across the Buckeye State who constructed distribution lines, hung transformers, and installed electrical services, meters and internal wiring for the villages of Las Tortugas and San Jorge in Guatemala.

This large group of volunteers from Ohio’s electric cooperatives traveled to Guatemala as part of a rural electrification mission called Project Ohio. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has been helping people for over 75 years through NRECA International, created in 1962, which has brought safe, reliable and affordable electric power to more than 126 million people in 43 countries — people located in some of the world’s most isolated communities. The goal has been to share the information and know-how gained during the rural electrification of the U.S. with developing countries around the globe.

Ohio’s 24 Electric cooperatives across the Buckeye State united in Project Ohio and contributed towards the personal needs of Guatemala village residents by providing supplies and workers. For two weeks, Rowland joined other co-op linemen, NRECA organizers, and locals in bringing electricity to the mountaintop villages of Las Tortugas and San Jorge — providing electricity to 140 homes that never had it before.

Rowland said his biggest challenge was the language barrier and communications. Adjusting to nearly 100-degree temperatures and mountain terrains was strenuous, but their limited technology made radio communications difficult.

Most village residents live on just $2 per day, and a major challenge for many in Guatemala is obtaining clean drinking water. Project Ohio’s generous donations provided a simple in-home water filtration system installed in each household. Cooperative donations were used to help with additional village needs, and many children received shoes.

Project Ohio installed wiring and electrical services for schools in Las Tortugas and San Jorge. The team installed lighting and much-needed ceiling fans in both schools. Electronic technology items, like projectors and a laptop, were also donated by the cooperative group to help children with their studies.

“Installing lighting and fans for the children was most rewarding,” Rowland said. “To see the kids’ smiles, and to observe the villages illuminated at night was very gratifying. I’m grateful for the opportunity to change lives and provide hope for the future — and would do it all over again if given the opportunity.”

Rowland is a native of New London and is a volunteer firefighter on the local fire department.

Since its inception, NRECA International’s program staff and volunteers design and construct electric distribution systems to meet the individual needs of each community, and they train the local workforce on how to operate and maintain the system.

Founded in 1936, Firelands Electric Cooperative, a Touchstone Energy Partner, is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric utility serving more than 9,130 homes and businesses in rural areas of Ashland, Huron, Lorain and Richland counties. For more information, visit www.firelandsec.com.

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