Close-Up Profile: Andy Ridge, Lineworker, Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Texas
Andy Ridge remembers hearing stories from his parents and grandparents about the first time they received electricity. For many families living in rural America 75 years ago, the electric cooperative movement dramatically changed lives. This year, Ridge was part of Haitian electric co-op history, participating in a team that will ultimately provide the people of Côteaux, Haiti, and the surrounding area the opportunity to turn the lights on for the first time.
For the last eight years, Ridge has worked with Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) in Texas. Together with two other PEC linemen, Ridge volunteered for the NRECA International and helped build the first electric co-op in Haiti. Upon completion, the diesel-solar hybrid electric system will provide safe, affordable and reliable power to 1600 consumers.
“Working in Haiti kind of gives you a sense of how the guys did it back in the ’30s and ’40s, when people were grateful to see the linemen and knew what was coming,” said Ridge. Over there, with everything we did, there was a crowd that would gather. You could tell they were happy to see us.”
Over three weeks, the PEC linemen worked with two Haitian counterparts and the NRECA International team managing the Haiti Rural Electric Cooperative Project. They faced challenges that were common in the United States many decades ago, accomplished many tasks without modern equipment and hired locals to help dig holes by hand. Ridge and his colleagues bonded with community members who lent a hand — especially the kids. Building these relationships and experiences is one way that NRECA International projects leave long-lasting benefits for both the communities and volunteers.
One day they’re going to tell stories to their kids and grandkids about some guys from America that came and put wire in to have lights and power at their houses.
Ridge, with two young children at home, took away lessons that he plans to pass on and encourages co-op crews to take advantage of volunteer opportunities with NRECA International.
“It’s very humbling to see how little these people have, but how happy they are with what they do have. It put a lot of things in perspective for us,” Ridge told the PEC Board of Directors in March.
Like volunteer teams before Ridge’s, they continued the work of the previous team, and subsequent teams will continue the same assignments until completion. The project is expected to be operational this summer.
“We know the story of the co-ops in America, and we got to be part of that story over there,” said Ridge. “A lot of guys are ready to go and take part in the same thing we got to do. It truly was a life changing experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”