A former Wellsboro man will be part of an electrification project in a remote Bolivian village in February.
Ryan Hall, formerly of Wellsboro, now of Great Falls, Montana, is the son of Roxanne Wilkinson and Gary Hall.
Hall is communications director at Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Asssociation, the state wide trade association of 25 co-ops in Montana.
He and a line superintendent recently returned from a preliminary trip to Bolivia.
In February, the superintendent, Hall and 14 linemen will return as part of a National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International electrification project to install electric power to a remote village near the northern border of Brazil.
During their 18-day trip from Feb. 4-21, Hall said the linemen would be running power lines to a village that doesn’t have consistent power.
“They just got a generator about a month ago, and they are allowed to run one light per night for about four hours,” he explained.
The population of just under 200 people live in the village of Villa Cotoca.
To get there, Hall said it was 42 hours of travel starting in Great Falls, a layover in Minneapolis, Minn., then a flight to Miami, Fla. From there they flew to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, then Cobija, a city of about 65,000.
“We had a four and a half hour of drive from Cojiba to Villa Cotoca,” he said.
The clay road, through solid jungle, was cut through the center, he added.
When they arrived, Hall said the school children walked up to them, and they said “hello Montana, welcome to Villa Cotoca,” in Spanish.
Hall said he was only able to pick up a little of it, but some of those who were with him translated.
“We sat at tables on the basketball court and all the people came out to thank us. One lady said thank you to God because you guys coming here is a gift from God.”
“We were hit emotionally because we didn’t expect to be called a gift from God. That is a humbling moment,” he said.
The linemen will be running seven miles of power line to 38 homes and one school.
“They are literally living in one room homes with dirt floors,” Hall said.
Because the village is so remote, any grocery stores are two hours away.
“Someone has to make trips there and the truck comes every so often. They eat eggs and chickens that they raise, as well as hogs and they have goats for milk,” Hall said.
The biggest culture shock for Hall was the school.
“I walked in and an 8-year-old girl was whittling her pencil with a blade, they have no extra pencils and no pencil sharpeners. They only had one blade which had to be shared,” he said.
Hall said they will be bringing some backpacks and school supplies and blenders on their trip in February.
“We will be doing some fundraising in December and we will take the money down there because everything is so much cheaper to purchase there,” he said.
The visitors were able to stay in the cabins that they will stay in on their next trip.
“There are some things you have to get used to there. We were walking down by the river and the owner said you may want to walk a little further back because caymans swim in that river all the time,” he said.
Hall said the people there are “very friendly and happy but they have very little.”
In one house he went into there was an outlet hanging down in the center of the room for a light bulb.
“They had three rooms that could be lighted but they could only afford one bulb, so they take the bulb with them from room to room,” he said.
Oddly enough, Hall said, the number one thing they want to get, once they have power, is a blender to make juice for their kids.
“The water there is no good. You can’t drink the water, eat salads, or anything that is washed in the water,” Hall explained.
Once they get electric power, they will be able to boil the water and refrigerate bottled water, which Hall said is important, because “when it’s 115 degrees you don’t want to drink room temperature water.”
They grow their own vegetables but they can’t wash them in water.
“They are peeling things to clean the dirt off them,” Hall said.
There are papaya and brazil nut trees everyhere, Hall added.
“They (Brazil nuts) grow on 50 foot tall trees and the nuts are at the top. You have to wait till they ripen and drop and you can harvest them,” he said.
In order to put up the power lines, the local government will have to clear three feet of jungle on on either side of the road and they will have to go around the brazil nut trees.
“And, they don’t use wooden power poles. The poles are concrete. We have to used fixed ladders to get up the poles,” he explained.
Once the linemen are finished, he said, they will “flip the switch” to electrify the village.
The villagers will pay a nominal monthly utility bill.
“We are building the infrastructure so that isn’t built into their bills,” he said.