THE BROTHERHOOD RUNS DEEP
When HILCO lineman Mike Grisham agreed to volunteer his time and skills to help extend power lines in Haiti, he expected the culture shock, the hard working conditions, missing his family. But he didn’t expect to make deep connections with the local linemen he worked with, and how their families and communities would be part of his, long after his return to Texas.
In February, 2016, Mike traveled to Caracol, Haiti, to work side by side with NRECA International on the USAID-funded Pilot Project for Sustainable Electricity Distribution. Together with Clay Thompson, fellow lineman from HILCO, and Brannon Nichols from Homer Electric Association in Alaska, the three volunteers set out to extend power lines to communities that are being served by a power generation station. This is the only region in Haiti that receives reliable electricity 24 hours a day. With the help of volunteers like Mike, the NRECA International team will eventually connect 10,000 consumers in the area with electricity.
It didn’t take long for Mike and his team to understand that the local linemen –and there were about a dozen of them, faced many challenges to live what Americans would consider normal lives.
“They lacked basic needs like clothing, food, and a decent place to live with their families,” said Mike. “But despite it all, their positive outlook on life was amazing.”
Mike and his fellow American linemen were celebrated at special community gatherings, where food and drink were offered as a form of gratitude and brotherhood.
Arm wrestling diplomacy
It was at the first gathering after the first week of work, that Haitian lineman Luco challenged Mike to a friendly arm-wrestling competition. In front of a raucous cheering crowd, Mike won, and a friendship between the two men was born.
“I realized then that I want to help Luco and the other linemen live better lives,” explained Mike. “Many co-ops are already supporting the work NRECA International does to help communities get electricity, but I want to help the people who DO the work, like Luco.”
When Mike returned to Texas, he started a GoFundMe page to do just that. His goal is to raise $5000 to help the Haitian linemen and their families buy food and clothes when they need it. And now that these communities have electricity, some of the linemen also have bigger dreams to break out of the poverty cycle.
“Luco told me he wants to build a house for his wife and baby to live in, and that it’s going to cost him US$1800,” explained Mike. “He’s already saved about half of what he needs and he asked for help. By our standards, that’s not much at all to build a house, but it’s a luxury to them.”
Today, Luco’s house is under construction, and is expected to be complete soon. As money comes in through the GoFundMe page, Mike transfers the funds to his Haitian friends. Using Google Translate to overcome language barriers, they communicate regularly via WhatsApp.
Building Cultural Bridges with Hope
It’s quite common to hear stories of how underserved communities benefit from reliable electricity, made possible by NRECA International and its volunteers. With the growth of interest and support from American electric co-ops to help NRECA’s international work, more volunteers are given the opportunity to provide the help that is sorely needed in these communities.
But the unintended consequence is clear: Cultural bridges that extend beyond the construction of power lines can make worlds bigger and fill communities with hope and friendship.