GREENFIELD — A local NineStar employee spent 16 days in Guatemala recently helping to bring electricity to villages in the developing country.
Jeff Conley of Greenfield and more than a dozen other electrical workers from around Indiana traveled to Guatemala on a volunteer trip with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a service organization made up of more than 900 nonprofit rural electric cooperatives.
The cooperative’s mission is to bring power to underdeveloped countries, Conley said. His experience abroad was a surreal one, full of hot temperatures, rough lands and lots of lessons to be learned, he said.
“The people in the village didn’t even know what they don’t have,” Conley said.
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Conley left for Guatemala in late April with 14 other lineman. They traveled to Sepamac Village in Guatemala, a rural area seven hours outside the capital, Guatemala City.
Indiana’s chapter for the cooperative participates in semiannual charity trips, but this is the first time a NineStar employee traveled with the group, said Jamie Bell, NineStar’s director of operations.
While visiting these underserved nations, the workers install power lines and teach locals how to operate and repair equipment, said Maria Winsatt, a spokeswoman with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
Electrifying these areas helps improve infrastructure, Winsatt said, leading to economic growth, better education and improved health care.
After only a few hours in Guatemala, Conley said he quickly learned how different the area was from his Indiana home.
Weather in the country is tropical, and geography is mountainous. Temperatures were greater than 100 degrees the majority of the time he was in the country.
The intense heat wasn’t the only challenge; the rocky area made placing electrical poles much harder as well.
“It’s beautiful terrain, but it wasn’t what we were used to,” Conley said.
One of the most significant moments of his trip was helping to rewire a 20-year-old school, Conley said. He said he hoped the upgrades would help the village expand its educational offerings.
Interacting with the locals, especially those who stood to directly benefit from the work, was a special experience, Conley said.
“It was very easy to get attached to the kids,” he said. “There was only one girl in the village that had gone to high school; they were hoping to offer more adult classes.”
NineStar has donated equipment to the missions in the past, Bell said, and Conley said he hopes more NineStar employees will be able to participate in the future.
“I think this something that we would all like to do,” he said.