It wasn’t Ryan White’s first volunteer international trip to bring power to a rural community, but the life-changing outcome was the same. Ryan knew what to expect and remembered the emotional experience of watching a community turn lights on for the first time.
“I traveled to Bolivia with a team from Virginia in 2019 and saw how people lived and survived without power,” said Ryan, over a phone interview. “Seeing people get power for the first time and how life-changing it is for them is a very intense feeling. In Guatemala, when the lights got turned on for the first time, I saw the linemen experience the same emotions I felt in Bolivia. It’s a special feeling experiencing it for the first time, it’s something you never forget.”
In 2019 Ryan worked for Rappahannock Electric in Virginia and traveled with the team to Bolivia for Virginia’s first volunteer electrification trip organized by NRECA International. Today, Ryan is a Multimedia Communications Specialist with Seminole Electric Cooperative, located in Tampa, Florida. In November 2022, he was part of Florida’s first international team of electric co-op volunteers to bring power to 30 families in Guishoro, a village in the Southeastern mountains of Guatemala.
Fourteen volunteers from six electric cooperatives in Florida made that trip and brought extra joy and lights to celebrate the Christmas season.
Ryan brought cameras instead of climbing hooks to capture the story of the volunteers and the villagers. Every day he worked side by side with the lineworkers, and the Guishoro families opened their homes and hearts to Ryan giving him an intimate view of the transformation that happened for everyone over the course of 17 days.
“The villagers were very gracious and willing to talk to me, and from the first day I was able to establish not just a working relationship but also a friendship with them,” said Ryan.
He spent a lot of time in a cluster of houses at one end of the village, where the power line built by the volunteers ended. He interviewed families and spent time in their homes. Among his new friends were Beverly, Wendy and Bella, three little girls he called the three princesses, or tres princesas, who followed him every day.
Ryan quickly heard and saw first-hand, how power was going to change lives.
“Most families want power so they can work at night, watch TV and have refrigerators to store their food,” said Ryan.
But he also learned that it was more than just about the power.
“I got to spend time at the village elder’s house, who had lived her whole life without power,” said Ryan. “Her son Ronaldo is a schoolteacher and developed a close relationship with Jason Price, one of our volunteers. On our last day there, she was grateful for the power, but more so for the bond formed between Jason and her son. That friendship continues till today.”
The village also has plans to build a community school, so children like the tres princesas don’t have to walk hours a day to get an education.
“Every day, Beverly and Wendy and their mom Jessica, would walk an hour to and from school from their home,” said Ryan.
Guishoro is a coffee farming community, and Suzy’s coffee plantation is at the other end of the power line. She was the village advocate and liaison for this project, and she opened her farm for the team to store their equipment.
“Suzy will use electricity to process her coffee, and she showed us how power will improve the lives of her workers,” said Ryan. “Seasonal workers come to Guishoro to harvest coffee beans, and she is installing lights so they can read at night and use power outlets to charge their phones so they can call their families back home.”
With experience under his belt, Ryan played a big role in helping prepare the volunteers for the trip. He also stressed that to do his job well, and to capture the essence of the entire experience, requires more than just showing up with a camera.
“It’s more than getting the right shots. You must be a team player, you have to be invested in the project,” stressed Ryan. “I did whatever needed to get done, I was grounding for the linemen, I drove the truck to string wire, and helped in any way I could.”
At times, the multitasking made capturing all of the activities a challenge, but he says it’s important for communications staff to be part of any volunteer team that brings power to communities.
“I couldn’t be everywhere to capture everything and that was the hardest part of the trip,” said Ryan. “It was frustrating because it is so important to tell the story. That’s why communications people need to go. This is such an important program, and if we don’t talk about it, no one would know about it, and wouldn’t hear and understand why we do what we do. I hope every co-op participates in it, because it’s an eye-opening experience. “
“I am proud to have been a part of not one, but two different state’s inaugural trips,” said Ryan. “It is such an honor and a privilege to have done that. Given the opportunity I would gladly go on another one.”
To learn more about everyone’s journey, check out the Powering Guatemala Facebook page. Ryan White is responsible for all the photos, and produced the video story below.