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[February 15, 2013]
Electrifying rural Haiti
WORTHINGTON, Feb 15, 2013 (The Daily Globe - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A lineman with Nobles Cooperative Electric recently returned from a three-week stint in a small Haitian village, where he worked to help electrify rural areas of the country.
Jeremy Boogerd, of Fulda, volunteered for the opportunity through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) International Foundation nearly two years ago. The foundation provides employees of electrical cooperatives a chance to bring much needed services to Third World countries.
At the time he applied, Boogerd said he requested to volunteer in Haiti.
"It was a place I would never travel to on my own," he said. "I had a college roommate at SMSU (Southwest Minnesota State University) that was from Haiti and I thought it would be neat to go there. I wanted to see what a Third World country was like." Boogerd traveled with two electrical workers from Missouri, first flying to Florida and then on to Haiti. They left Jan. 16, and returned home Feb. 2.
"There's a lot of people that volunteer," he said, adding that with unrest in Haiti a year ago, there were delays in organizing the trip.
While in Haiti, Boogerd and other volunteers worked around a 600-acre compound that contains a generation station set up to supply factories within the compound. So far, there's just one factory there, but more are planned to be added in time.
"Once the power lines get outside of that compound, that's where our work begins," he explained. "We bring poles and wire to smaller villages. We hooked up a little over 30 houses on the weekends." During the week, the volunteers built lines from the main source out to a nearby village, about three and a half miles away; and then on the weekends, they were able to bring electrical services to more than 30 houses.
"We were setting all of the poles, and another group is now starting to string the wire," Boogerd said, adding that a new group of volunteers arrived just a couple of days after he left, again for a three-week stint.
Because there is little equipment available in Haiti to do the work, days were spent doing manual labor. Haitian men were hired to dig the holes for the power poles by hand. It took two men an entire day to dig two holes measuring three feet wide by six feet deep. They were paid $10 in U.S. money for each hole they dug, and they worked one day ahead of the linemen.
"We would set the pole and tamp it manually," Boogerd said. "There's no bucket truck, so we had to climb the poles." The villagers were excited for the arrival of electricity, and while it was a challenge for Boogerd and other Americans to communicate with the people, they developed a common understanding.
"(We were) the only three white people in a village of 6,000 people," he said. "They were really appreciative ... really, super nice. You could kind of communicate with them a little bit." "We're down there to build, but they (the Haitians) have three local linemen, so we're trying to teach and educate them too, so they can do some of it on their own," he added.
Crews worked Monday through Friday, with a half-day on Saturday. Sundays were open for sightseeing, and Boogerd said they spent quite a bit of time on the beach.
"It's not a big vacation area, so it was mostly people working around there," he said. During one Sunday, they traveled to Citadelle Laferriere, a fortress on top of a mountain in northern Haiti.
The linemen stayed in a motel about 15 minutes from where they worked, and because the hotel was hooked up to a generator, power was turned off at 7:30 a.m., and turned back on at 6:30 p.m. Boogerd said they had no televisions and no Internet access.
They would typically eat at the hotel, dining on chicken, turkey, beef, pork and a lot of goat meat. They also had fish.
"They serve the whole fish -- the head and eyes all laying on the plate," he shared. "It took me maybe three days to get used to the food. (The meat) is all cut up with a machete and there's a lot of bone pieces." Boogerd, who has worked as a lineman for Nobles Cooperative Electric for seven years, said he'd eventually like to volunteer for another work experience overseas.
"It probably won't be for a while," he said, adding that the hardest part about working in Haiti was leaving his wife to care for their two young children.
Meanwhile, he's sharing his experience with fellow employees in hopes that maybe one of them will choose to volunteer. Boogerd is the first Nobles Cooperative Electric lineman to volunteer with the NRECA Foundation, although board president Ron Schwartau of Murray County has made some trips as an adviser with the foundation.
"I had a really good time," Boogerd added. "It was hard work at times, but it was fun too. We worked hard, but we played hard, too." Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.
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