In the summer of 2012, 32 Hoosier volunteers, including 28 linemen from Indiana’s electric cooperatives, traveled to a remote mountain area of Guatemala. Their mission: to bring electricity to three villages located in beautiful, but treacherous, terrain near the Mexican border. They braved uncertain weather and terrifying mountain roads — and improvised when needed to finish the backbreaking work. In the end, they transformed the lives of a thousand Guatemalans and were also personally transformed in the process.
Years later, this philanthropic spark evolved into Project Indiana and a mission of sustainable change. The project’s focus shifted beyond simply electrifying villages to making them better places to live — just as happened nearly 85 years ago when electricity first came to rural Indiana. To do that, the Project Indiana team is now helping the Guatemalans form a cooperative and improve education, nutrition, water and health care in their villages.
It brings full circle what happened in the 1930s here in rural Indiana — people working together to light a community, one pole at a time, to make a better life.
Michael Shirley was the first Boone REMC lineman to make the trip to Guatemala back in 2015, and lineman Michael Bowman traveled there in 2017 and 2019. Bowman is excited to return to Guatemala later this month for a third time. The 16-person crew will stay in a school near Peña Roja in western Guatemala, near the Mexican border. The Indiana linemen will extend electricity to 26 homes at elevations of 11,000-12,000 feet.
“Having participated in the 2017 and 2019 trips, I look forward to accomplishing another challenging job in the mountainous terrain and high altitude,” said Bowman. “We always have a great sense of camaraderie on these trips.”
He said another challenge is having to climb the utility poles to string wire and install equipment like transformers, because “we don’t have bucket trucks in the mountains!”
Bowman has enjoyed the opportunity to help prepare other linemen who are new to international electrification projects.
More information about this international work is available at ProjectIndiana.org. A documentary called “Power to the People – Hoosiers Power the World” was made about the first trip and is available on YouTube.
Project Indiana by the numbers
3.75 miles of line
16 members of the crew
17 — length of the trip in days
26 homes that will receive electricity
2,415 miles away
11,000 elevation in feet