Lighting the Way for Sillab
Co-ops plan to bring electricity to isolated Guatemalan village
View at Sillab, Guatemala. Photos by Anna Politano
Sitting at 2,700 feet altitude, atop a towering mountain surrounded by scenic and lush elevation ranges, is the small village of Sillab (pronounced ‘Si-yap’) in north-central Guatemala, nearing the border with Belize. Visitors coming to explore the Guatemalan beauty would likely never go up on this mountain; the area is far from tourist attractions, and it’s nearly a 10-hour drive from the capital city of Guatemala City. Residents of Sillab live away from civilization. Most villagers don’t speak the official language of the country, Spanish; instead, they speak an ancient, Mayan-based dialect called Q’eqchi’ or “kek-chi.”
Recently, representatives from Oklahoma and Colorado’s electric cooperatives—in partnership with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s philanthropic arm, NRECA International—conducted a scouting trip to plan an electrification project for Sillab that will take place later in the year. What they found was not only a primitive community lacking access to electricity, running water and plumbing, but also a dwelling of joyful, hospitable people. The purpose of the trip was to assess the local conditions, see the project site, meet the villagers and utility representatives and evaluate the staking design for power lines.
With a total of 60 homes, one elementary school and four churches, the village of Sillab grows corn for self-consumption and villagers generate most of their income from the production of cardamon seeds, peppers, and coffee as well as a variety of other spices. Stricken by scarce resources and poverty, most villagers made Sillab their home after receiving a plot of land from the Guatemalan government, a result of a Peace Agreement following the Guatemalan Civil War from 1963 to 1996.
Fray David, a farmer, is a village leader at Sillab where he was born and raised. Fray and his wife have three sons and dream of having access to electricity. When it gets dark at 6 p.m., Fray uses a flashlight to see his surroundings. The family typically goes to bed by 7 p.m. and wakes up at 5 a.m. with sunlight. Their story is changing in September when lights are coming on in Sillab. Be a part of this mission! Visit: www.tinyurl.com/energytrails | Photos by Anna Politano
In August 2019, 20 volunteers from Oklahoma and Colorado’s electric cooperatives will build power lines over a stretch of 6 1/2 miles and will wire 60 poles and install four transformers. The power lines will belong to a local utility, ADECORK (Associación Para Desarollo Communitario Rax Kiche. Translation: Association for Community Development Rax Kiche). ADECORK will carry the responsibility of generating and distributing electric power to Sillab. The utility operates a small hydro plant with a capacity of 75 kilowatts (kw). ADECORK currently provides power to 300 consumers in nearby villages. ADECORK officials are actively seeking funds to increase their capacity for more water in order to power additional surrounding villages. The utility is currently not structured as an electric cooperative, but their leaders aspire to adopt the electric cooperative business model. Oklahoma volunteers will also wire each home with four lightbulbs (kitchen, living room and front porch and back of the home) and four electrical outlets. The estimated electric rate will be 14 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh). As a reference, the average per kwh rate in Oklahoma for residental service is 10 cents, across all utilities. Although the villagers would be incurring another bill, their energy consumption is considerably lower compared to the United States. Most of the villagers do not own or cannot afford electrical appliances. Access to electricity should empower the villagers with economic prosperity, safety and a better quality of life.
“This mission enables co-ops to get back to our roots, providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience to co-op linemen and giving a gift that will last for generations to come,” Chris Meyers, general manager with the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, said.
Participating in the scouting trip were team leader Mike Wolfe with Southwest Rural Electric Association based in Tipton, Oklahoma, Anna Politano with the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives and Colorado Rural Electric Association officials, Dale Kishbaugh, safety and loss control director and Liz Fiddes, director of member services. They were accompanied by NRECA International Engineer Erick Berganza.
“It is a privilege to serve as team leader for this electrification project,” Wolfe, who was a volunteer for the 2018 Guatemala electrification project, said. “I’m eager to work alongside a great team to bring electricity to Sillab. On projects like this, you receive more than you give. It will be a life-changing experience.”