Genevie Boarman is First Linewoman on Volunteer Electrification Project

By Erin Kelly, originally published on Electric Co-op News. Photos by John Johnston, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.

When lineworker Genevie Boarman arrived in Guatemala last month with 15 other volunteers to help electrify a village with NRECA International, male employees from the local municipal utility did a double take.

“It was funny,” she said. “One of them was pointing at me and asking, ‘Does she climb?’ He did not expect it. They saw me climbing poles later that day, and it was history after that.”

Volunteer lineworker Gena Boarman from Northern Neck Electric Cooperative in Virginia.

The 28-year-old lineworker is accustomed to putting such questions to rest quickly by performing just like her male counterparts. Nearly four years ago, she became the first female lineworker at an electric cooperative in Virginia when she began working for Northern Neck Electric Cooperative in Warsaw. Boarman’s trip to Guatemala has now made her the first woman from a co-op line crew ever to work on an NRECA International volunteer project.

Fortunately, she said, the male lineworkers from Virginia, Maryland and Delaware who volunteered for the trip didn’t make a big deal of her gender.

“They never treated me differently at all,” said Boarman, whose late father was also a lineworker. “They were awesome.”

The lineworkers—who hailed from nine different co-ops—brought electricity to 103 homes and a school in the small rural village of Santa Isabel in northwestern Guatemala. NRECA International partnered with the Municipal Electric Utility of Ixcan to connect Santa Isabel to the local power grid.

The volunteers spent 19 days building and energizing 5.5 miles of power lines and installing six transformers, all without the benefit of bucket trucks or line trucks. They also put internal wiring in the wooden, thatched-roof huts that are home to about 500 people.

Electric co-op volunteer lineworkers from Virginia, Maryland and Delaware

The biggest challenges, Boarman said, were working in the 100-degree-plus heat and driving over muddy roads with potholes so deep that their pickup trucks kept getting stuck. The lineworkers drove about an hour each way from their hotel to the village and back.

“I didn’t expect the roads to be as bad as they were,” Boarman said. “The first day, we got trucks stuck left and right and had to pull each other out.” She said villagers helped out by putting baskets of rocks on their backs and dumping them out to fill the holes and provide some traction.

Boarman said there was one little girl in the village who wanted to be her helper, and she showed her how to use a screwdriver. The lineworker said she hopes it helped open the girl’s eyes to what she can do someday.

“It was very humbling,” said Boarman, who had never left the U.S. before and was struck by the lack of running water in the village. “When I got home, I thanked my mom for the life she gave me. She really spoiled me growing up.”

Genevie Boarman with a few helpers in the village.

Boarman said she was relieved that she and the other volunteers were able to stay and complete the electrification of the village despite widespread, peaceful political protests throughout Guatemala. At one point, they thought they might have to leave early because anti-government protesters could potentially block the roads to the airport.

“We were almost done with the project and that would have made me upset if we couldn’t finish it,” she said. “But we stayed.”

Boarman said she can’t wait to volunteer for NRECA International again.


Gena Boarman teaching a local lineworker how to climb.

Boarman said she can’t wait to volunteer for NRECA International again.

“If they ask me to go tomorrow, I’d say yes in a heartbeat,” she said. “I was really proud that I could help with something like this.”

Brad Hicks, president and CEO of Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, said the co-op is celebrating Boarman’s milestone.

“Her skills, determination and passion for service make her an inspiration not only to our cooperative members but also to women aspiring to pursue careers in the utility industry.”