Fifteen electric cooperative lineworkers who traveled 4,000 miles to bring power for the first time to five small villages in Bolivia have received an official commendation from the Virginia General Assembly.
At a Dec. 8 ceremony in Warsaw, Va., Del. Margaret Ransone presented a resolution praising the work of United We Light: Project Bolivia to Craig Loving, a lineworker at Northern Neck Electric Cooperative.
Loving, one of the volunteers from eight cooperatives in Virginia and Maryland, accepted the resolution, approved by the legislature earlier this year, on behalf of his fellow lineworkers as part of the virtual event.
In part, the resolution reads: “Whereas, United We Light: Project Bolivia provided a sense of hope and strengthened communities by helping to ensure that residents can choose to stay in their home villages; now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Delegates, the Senate concurring, that the General Assembly hereby commend United We Light: Project Bolivia for its life-changing accomplishments in service to communities in rural Bolivia.”
Ransone, who sponsored the resolution and whose district includes the Northern Neck, praised the selflessness of the United We Light crew members.
“When you left your homes to go into Bolivia and help those communities in great need, it was certainly an act of goodwill and kindness. It was a great honor for me, personally, to recognize you,” she said.
Del. Kirk Cox, who also attended the socially distanced ceremony at Northern Neck Electric Cooperative’s warehouse, said he was impressed that lineworkers endured three plane trips and a laborious bus ride to work at a 13,000-foot elevation and raise 13 miles of line by hand.
“For our country, going through COVID and the political divisions, this is what America is all about,” he said. “They’re what makes America special. They’re so hard-working; their jobs are so essential to us.”
The lineworkers spent two-and-a-half weeks in the Oruro region of Bolivia in September 2019, working in inclement conditions and on rough terrain with modest equipment. They provided more than three dozen homes and dwellings with power for the first time, many with a single fixture and a CFL bulb.
Speaking for his colleagues, Loving noted that he lost 20 pounds on the trip adjusting to local food, but that it changed him as much as the Bolivians.
“The experience of giving the gift of electricity is something that you can try to put into words, but you really can’t explain the emotional toll it takes on you as an individual or as a person,” he said. “The Bolivians had just the basics that we gave them — a light bulb and a socket —and we changed the world they knew completely.”
The Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives sponsored the project, its first overseas electrification project, with support from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s international arm, the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp. and the National Cooperative Services Corp.
Brad Hicks, president and CEO of Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, which hosted the event, noted concern for community is a fundamental principle of the cooperative movement.
“Providing power to unserved areas of the world takes a tremendous amount of coordination and commitment. This is what cooperatives do best,” he said.
The group included:
• Bernie Hastings, A&N Electric Cooperative, Tasley, Va.;
• Cody Minter, BARC Electric Cooperative, Millboro, Va.;
• Jason Purvis, Josh Golladay and Allan Thacker, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Arrington, Va.;
• Mike Johnson, Choptank Electric Cooperative, Denton, Md.;
• Craig Loving, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, Warsaw, Va.;
• Dillon Sheads, Patrick Ambrose, Cody Lockhart and Brian (Jake) Michael, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Fredericksburg, Va.;
• Roger Pace, Mike Alexander and J.T. Jacobs, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Rockingham, Va.; and
• Scott Diggs, Southside Electric Cooperative, Crewe, Va.
Also part of United We Light were John Medved, Bolivia team leader and director of safety and compliance at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative; videographer Ryan White of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative; and Alan Scruggs, vice president of safety and training services at the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives.