Committed to Community:
Mike Johnson’s Volunteer Experience in Bolivia
Fifteen volunteer electric cooperative lineworkers, including Mike Johnson from our Chestertown District office, 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. These brave men brought electricity for the first time to 52 households across five communities in the Oruro region of the South American nation.
It took over 15 hours to arrive in Bolivia! Johnson recalled how the crew flew together from Reagan International Airport to Miami (2 1/2 hours), and boarded another flight from Miami to Bolivia which took an additional seven hrs. Finally, once the weary crew made it to Bolivia, it was another six hours by bus through paved and rough roads to the work site.
The linemen had two interpreters assigned to accompany them everywhere they went – which was done so they could enjoy a safe experience. On their time off, the linemen visited the local downtown, nearby salt flats, and even a 5,000 year old burial ground.
Llama, quinoa, and potatoes was the staple supper most days. Soup and other local delicacies were also served. Johnson said locals believed the quinoa grown in this area of Bolivia is so pure, that people allegedly lived into their 600’s.
Expansive landscapes were common during the trip. Johnson explained the weather was bitter cold, combined with sleet/snow for the first few days.
The town of Coniri in which Johnson performed the majority of his work had a large volcano, easily seen from anywhere in the village. It is said the volcano has not been active since the 1600’s. While in Coniri, Johnson and other linemen stayed in a local hotel – the accommodations while reminiscent of a summer camp bunker room, lacked heating in its entirety - no fireplaces or even gas options. Blankets were available.
When asked if he would do it again, and if others should follow on his footsteps, Johnson answered: “Absolutely! This was truly a once in a lifetime experience.”