Three weeks in Haiti a life-changing experience for three OTC men: LREC linemen from Pelican Rapids help bring power to nation
Three Lake Region Electric Cooperative linemen volunteered their time to help bring power to the nation of Haiti in December. Anthony Spaeth, Troy Seter, and Lucas Bakken left their families and the comforts of home behind to work on a large three-phase project in Caracol, Haiti from November 27 through December 17.
Each of the men say they felt humbled by the opportunity to help bring power to such an impoverished nation. "I wanted to help out a struggling country. You hear about Haiti on the news and I wanted to do anything I could to help them out," Spaeth explains. "It was the experience of a lifetime."
The linemen traveled to Haiti through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's (NRECA) International Program which covered the costs associated with airfare and accommodations. Founded over 50 years ago, the program continues to grow and expand into new countries helping governments and their citizens bring electricity to rural places, leading to improvements in education, healthcare, safety, and economic opportunity. To date, over 120 million people across the globe have benefited from NRECA's International Program.
Although this was Lake Region's first time participating in the international program, in the past the cooperative has sent crews to help out after natural disasters struck in Louisiana, New York, and Kentucky. "I am proud of the employees we have who are willing to go and serve where there is a need," says LREC CEO Tim Thompson. "It is a privilege to have these same people working hard here at home to make sure our communities have power."
While in Haiti the linemen found themselves working downtown in tight streets where it was difficult to fit two trucks side by side. They say it wasn't unusual for 50 kids or adults to stand watching them for hours on end while they were working. Despite the extreme poverty many Haitians face, the men said the people they encountered there were very welcoming.
"We were carrying poles and started getting very dirty the first day we were there. My shirt and arm got really muddy. One guy saw this and brought me over to the truck and started washing my arm off. At that point I felt very welcomed," Bakken says.
"I've never been out of the United States," he continues. "It was a good experience to go see a third world country, help the people, and pass along some of the experience we have. Sometimes I think we can under appreciate what we have. I would have to wait awhile, but would consider doing something like this again down the road. I think it would be fun to go back to where we were and see what progress they've made."
"It was a rewarding experience," Seter agrees. "I've never been to a third world country. Seeing how other people live was a real humbling experience. When you're building lines down there it's house on top of house on top of house. In those houses is where people have their businesses. Bringing power to a house is actually bringing power to a business—whether it's selling soap or charcoal or whatever."
One day during their time in Haiti the linemen traveled to a village to distribute coloring books and flashlights from LREC. The men said they will never forget the smiles of the kids who were so excited to receive the gifts.
"Being able to help on an international level was a life-changing experience for the three linemen who went to Haiti. Hearing their stories is a reminder of how fortunate we are in our country and how important electricity is in our daily lives," Thompson comments. "Whether it's restoring power after an outage here at home or helping to bring electricity to another nation, the cooperative spirit motivates us all to help where we see an opportunity to better the lives of those around us."