Bringing Light to Guatemala: The Impact of Electrification in Dos Cruces
2 May 2023
News, Recent Work, Video, Quality of Life
Driving down bumpy dirt roads surrounded by rugged hillsides and fields teeming with fauna and wildlife, it's impossible to miss the Jumay stratovolcano rising 700 meters above the earth. Being so near a volcano in this remote terrain feels surreal and a far cry from the bright blue and yellow Spanish architecture often associated with Guatemala. Yet this was the setting of Golden Shovel Agency's trip to film Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC)'s work to electrify the village of Dos Cruces on the outskirts of Jalapa. Bumping along in trucks filled with wires, drop hardware, anchors, tools, books, toys, and soccer balls, GSA's Aaron Brossoit and Greg Kolbjornsen were there to film the electrification of a village and to witness their moment of transformation.
With approximately 60 houses, Dos Cruces is home to families who work the fields, growing crops that include some of the world's finest coffee beans. As agricultural workers in a remote area of the world, they are accustomed to a quiet way of life that prioritizes family and community while making the most of what they have. "The people we met in Dos Cruces were friendly, curious, and resourceful," said Aaron Brossoit, CEO of Golden Shovel Agency. "We were amazed by how they used raw materials to create makeshift stoves for cooking or even to build their homes." A far cry from modern appliances, their open-flame stoves are used for cooking for an entire family, but they are not particularly safe. "While there, we saw mothers pick up their babies and put them in crates outside the house so they wouldn't get hurt during the cooking process. The flames themselves were dangerous, but so was the smoke that would fill their homes." This was one of the challenges OTEC volunteers hoped to solve through electricity.
OTEC's 13 volunteers traveled nearly 3,500 miles to electrify homes in the village. The team consisted of linemen who had to find ways to extend electricity to Dos Cruces without modern machinery. "Some of the site work hadn't been completed by the time we arrived," said Brossoit. "It was amazing to see these linemen solve problems on the spot. They didn't let anything stand in the way of bringing electricity to these families." When the project was complete, six homes and one community gathering space were electrified, and electricity was brought to future home sites.
The electrification project is expected to impact the lives of the villagers positively. Greg Kolbjornsen, Executive Producer of Golden Shovel's PlaceVR, was filming the group's work and said, "I hope on the basic level it improves the lives of these hardworking agricultural workers. They raise families, and it can be a rough life. I saw a woman with a baby strapped to her back and front while carrying water on her head... they have to work hard to meet their basic needs." The electrification project could significantly impact the women of the village because the kitchen is one of the most significant places that will benefit from electrification. Currently, they have smoldering wood-fired stoves, and many do not have a chimney - smoke just fills the room. With a hotplate, they can cook without a dangerous fire in the house. Electrification could also help women when making corn tortillas, something that must be done daily now, but could be done once every three days if they had a refrigerator to keep the tortillas fresh.
"Seeing people live without electricity made me realize how much I take for granted. A small thing like having a light on at night to read a book or a fridge to preserve food can make an incredible difference in a family's life, as can boiling water on a hotplate so there are fewer diseases," said Brossoit.
From an economic development perspective, electrification can improve people's lives by enabling women to work outside the home while opening up opportunities for villagers to participate in the regional and global economy. In Guatemala, 75% of the people are below the poverty line, earning less than $10 per day. So even a slight increase in income can mean a great deal.
The Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative team thought about this lack of financial resources and came prepared. The volunteers donated hotplates and light bulbs to make it possible for families to use their newly active electricity. When installing light bulbs and showing them how to use a hotplate, it became clear how big of a game-changer electricity would be. "Kids and adults would gather around to watch as the light bulbs came on. As the light illuminated their faces, you could feel a sense of hope that their lives might get just a little better," said Kolbjornsen. "Ultimately, that's what we want in economic development - to improve people's lives. Whether through million-dollar investment projects in the U.S. or bringing light to a village, organizations like OTEC fight to make a difference daily. At Golden Shovel Agency, we are honored to witness and promote their work wherever we can. In this situation, creating virtual reality videos of the experience was the best way to do that because VR will transport viewers to the villages of Dos Cruces. I can't wait to see the final product Greg and his team put together," said Brossoit.