Co-op Lineworkers Bring Electricity to Bolivian Villages

Fifteen volunteer electric cooperative lineworkers have returned to the United States from Bolivia with heavier beards, weary eyes and thinner waistlines.

But what they left behind after two and a half weeks of hard labor will endure long after they trim their whiskers, catch up on their sleep and eat something other than llama.

The lineworkers brought electricity for the first time to 52 households across five communities in the Oruro region of the South American nation.

“I hope every cooperative member-consumer in our three-state region will be filled with as much pride as we are at what this team accomplished. We are approaching the holiday season and through their selfless efforts, they gave the best gift of all — the gift of light,” said Richard G. Johnstone Jr., president and CEO of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives.

The initiative, entitled “United We Light: Project Bolivia,” was sponsored by the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives in conjunction with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s international unit and support from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp.

The lineworkers, representing eight electric cooperatives in the mid-Atlantic region, departed for Bolivia Sept. 4 and returned Sept. 21.

The group included lineworkers from A&N Electric Cooperative, Tasley, Va.; BARC Electric Cooperative, Millboro, Va.; Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Lovingston, Va.; Choptank Electric Cooperative, Denton, Md.; Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, Warsaw, Va.; Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Fredericksburg, Va.; Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Rockingham, Va.; and Southside Electric Cooperative, Crewe, Va.

They labored in Third World conditions at altitudes of 13,000 feet, with few hot showers and minimal diets, consisting in part of llama, a meat and pack animal in Andean culture. But the gratitude that the villagers showed erased any hardships in the minds of the lineworkers. October 8, 2019

“I wish people from the United States could come and see this, and see how heartfelt these people are — how we are brining them power and giving them happiness with what little they have,” said Jason Purvis, a lineman with Central Virginia Electric Cooperative.

The group’s work will have immediate benefits. One community is ready to install an electric well pump instead of retrieving water by hand. And one official hopes that the dawn of power will repopulate his village, where people have left in search of electric service. “With the electricity grid that is being installed, people will come back,” Coniri Mayor Lorenzo Arroyo said through an interpreter. “We are so happy, we have no more word to say ‘Thank you.’ ”

Highlights of the trip are posted on the Cooperative Living magazine Facebook page and the United We Light: Project Bolivia Facebook group.


Headquartered in Glen Allen, Va., the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives provides safety and training, communications and legislative services to 15 electric cooperatives serving the three-state Mid-Atlantic region. For more information on VMDAEC and the lineman’s rodeo, visit or

Members of United We Light: Project Bolivia pose in between the five electrification projects they undertook in Bolivia. Photo By Ryan White, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.