A Lineworker’s Story

JT Jacobs, Shenandoah Valley EC, Virginia

As soon as he heard about the volunteer trip to Bolivia, lineman JT Jacobs knew that this was what he wanted to do. For Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, sending volunteers to support NRECA International’s electrification projects is not new. But as 27-year-old JT learned after spending more than two weeks in rural Bolivia with 14 other volunteer lineworkers, this trip was not just about turning the lights on.

“We don’t think about turning on a lightbulb as being special,” JT said during a recent interview. “This trip showed me that electricity can be the answer to people’s dreams.”

“In the end, this trip was not only life changing for the Bolivian communities, but also a light of inspiration for myself and family back home,” he added. “We arrived into a challenging and unfamiliar world with a common goal to bring electricity to isolated villages. We did that but also began to understand that the gift to them wasn’t just electricity, it was us. These people, now our brothers and sisters, feared that they had been forgotten, that their voices had gone unheard. They live day to day stuck in the past as they watch nearby cities modernize.”

Meal prep time in Coniri, Bolivia.

JT’s team of 15 volunteer lineworkers from electric cooperatives in Virginia, Delaware and Maryland, traveled to the Oruro region in western Bolivia on Sept. 4 to bring electricity to three communities for the first time. This required them to build almost 10 miles of power lines to connect 32 households. The team was prepared for the tough working conditions: The region is 13,000 feet above sea level, the weather was cold at night, and the job needed to get done without line or bucket trucks.

Volunteers examining the work site in Coniri.

“I didn’t expect the impact from the high altitude, and the cold temperatures at night were pretty brutal. It was a rough beginning, but it got better after a few days,” JT remembers. “We were prepared for everything, but it seemed like at every turn we had to adapt and come up with different ways to do the job, and we always managed to get it done.”

The most memorable experience JT had was the strong bonds he made with the community.

“They needed not thank us or pay us, yet they offered everything they had,” he explained. “We did however accept lessons in appreciation for the life we have and how to find happiness in any situation. The experience is difficult to relate to anything I’ve ever done or felt.”

JT was very relieved and happy to come home to his fiancé and family, but the experience still lingers heavily on his mind. And for him and his fellow volunteers, the photos don’t tell the complete story. For him, this experience highlighted the importance of the cooperative family.

“On this Earth, we all have the same Father. We have to take care of ourselves at home and, if we’re able to, we should help out our brothers and sisters in need,” JT said. “If we have the capabilities to do that, we are helping the world out. The guys I was with agreed that this experience helped put our lives in perspective and made us better people in the end.”

Expanding the family in Coniri.

All photos by: Ryan White, Rappahanock Electric Cooperative