Two Years Later

A look back at the village of Chiis, Guatemala now with electricity 

Two Years Later

Photo by Anna Politano

Children run barefooted going up and down hills and slopes in the place they call home, the village of Chiis, Guatemala. It doesn’t matter if the ground is muddy or dry, their small feet have incredible agility running back and forth from the hills to complete chores, play games or pick fresh fruits from trees in a lush and dense vegetation. The small village, located in the northeastern part of the country near the border with Belize, sits atop a mountain at 2,700 feet. The beauty of the mountainous range is breathtaking and—despite an apparent lack of material resources—the locals know their home is stunning. Day or night, the childrens’ constant giggles make for a happy soundtrack. It was here that, two years ago, the families of Chiis had no lights. When the sun set around 6 p.m., it was a world of darkness, eased only by candle lights, flashlights or kerosene lamps. It was also two years ago that the quality of their lives improved significantly with the gift of electricity—a gift that will not go away. 

In 2017, Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives and their 501(c)3, not-for-profit, the Oklahoma Energy Trails Foundation, sent 13 volunteer linemen to bring first-time electricity to Chiis. The project was possible through the coordination of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s philanthropic arm, NRECA International. In 2019, volunteers from Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives had the opportunity to visit Chiis as they worked to electrify a nearby village, Sillab, which sits 10 miles away from Chiis. One of the 2017 volunteers, Heath Gossen, an electrician with CKenergy Electric Cooperative, was also part of the 2019 team. Gossen had the unique opportunity to observe life in Chiis, two years after receiving electric power. 

“It was an unreal feeling to be back for the second time, drive through the village at dusk and see the lights on. It was awesome to hear the kids coming out, hollering and wanting to say ‘hi’ just like they did two years ago. Words can’t explain it; it chokes me up and brings tears to my eyes to think of their excitement,” Gossen said. 

During a brief visit, Gossen was able to see signs of economic development in Chiis. One convenience store, called Bendicion de Dios (A blessing of God) located on the village’s main road, had a freezer to sell ice cream, popsicles, and cold drinks among other refrigerated goods. Close to the convenience store there was also a tire business with an air compressor running on electricity to air up tires. A few homes now have a TV, a refrigerator, radio or iron. Gossen said he could observe that families are benefitting from access to electricity and kids can now do homework after dark. 

Germán Choc, village leader, said the quality of life in the village of Chiis has undoubtedly improved. 

“Two years ago our community was different. It was poorly developed. There was almost nothing and a lot of poverty,” Choc said. “But thank God for the electricity project that took place in our community. Things have changed a lot and we’re having good development. Everything has improved.” 

Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives have sponsored four international electrification projects to date. They also recently received a new assignment for 2020 from NRECA International. Electric co-ops in Oklahoma will be preparing linemen to electrify a remote village in Bolivia; this project will mark the fifth international electrification project sponsored by Oklahoma co-ops. 

“By electrifying villages like Chiis, we are providing them with more opportunities for their future. It’s important for Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives to invest in these international projects because we have a unique skillset and can help provide a gift that will last for decades. We are building a strong legacy,” Chris Meyers, Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives general manager, said. 

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Energy Trails mission, Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives are sponsoring the “Lighting a Legacy” campaign to benefit the Oklahoma Energy Trails Endowment Fund. Learn more at http://bit.ly/SupportEnergyTrails