The wheels touch down on a lonely airstrip north of Huaraz in Ancash Region, Peru. It’s 6am, the air is crisp and cool despite the sun beating closely down upon us. The excitement growing among our group is infectious as we walk the tarmac to the airport. The backdrop is stunning. The airport sits in the shadow of the behemoth Huascaran, Peru’s tallest peak. Its snow covered crest is a stark contrast to the dry dusty brown of the Black Mountain range to the west and even more so to the palm trees growing near the terminal. We’re excited because we will soon be working together in this environment on an extraordinary volunteer assignment.
We met just two days ago in Lima: ten employees from across Enbridge and three from Light Up The World. We’ve been armed with only one day of technical training and one day to acclimatize. In so short a time we have become close.
Our assignment begins in the foothills of the aptly named Cordillera Blanca – the White Mountain range – in the Quechua speaking village of Chuchinpampa. Kilometers of dusty switchback roads lead us to a neat clean community center atop a hill with a 360 degree panoramic view. I expected to see poverty and neglect, and certainly there is the appearance of want- short small houses made with homemade brown mud bricks with tarps covering missing doors or windows, dogs roaming aimlessly about – but there is also an unexpected wealth and verdure to these hills- flowers growing in rows to be cut and sold in the markets below, an abundance of chickens, pigs and cows, and amazingly an electricity transmission line cutting a swath up the mountain.
There is a meeting of old and new here. Our young drivers wait patiently for us in their Nissan 4×4 trucks, both with smartphone in hand browsing social media. There is cell service here. The community center, connected to LUTWs solar panel system, offers a place for residents to recharge their cell phones. As we work diligently to complete the conversion of this building to solar powered electricity a more grueling work is taking place just outside these walls: a man guides an oxen team plowing his field and the older women of the community are making soup outside by an improvised campfire. They still wear a very traditional dress: knit leggings, frilly layered skirt, blouse, colourful cardigan, and tall hat cocked to one side.
In some cases having access to electricity means people living in remote areas such as Chuchinpampa can remain here and maintain their traditional lifestyles rather than moving to larger cities away from family and the customs they know.
For others, such as the schools in Puente Florida and Huayoshanca, connecting to electricity means they have access to more teaching resources such as educational videos and curriculum using a laptop computer. They can now flip a switch and turn on 3W LED bulbs on rainy or overcast days.
Perhaps the most shocking and unexpected reality is that these schools sit withinthe electric grid. At Puente Florida a pole was erected within reach of the school with spooled wire ready to make the connection. For a small class of only ten children ages 4-6 the cost of connecting to the grid and paying a monthly bill is out of reach. This is where LUTW is making a difference. Through generous ongoing support from donors like Enbridge these schools are receiving light. They received a solar panel, electrical box, several 12V batteries and circuiting with lights and outlets. The installation is heavily subsidized by LUTW with only about 30% of the material cost passed to the community. And there is no monthly bill.
LUTW is committed to sustainability. We spent only 10 days in Peru, but long after our departure LUTW technicians continue to maintain and support the systems we – and previous Enbridge groups – have installed. The success of each install begins with flipping a switch but is only measured years later by the continued support and impact it will have on the community.
So what is required of us? How do a few small communities in rural Peru affect how we do business in North America? Take a closer look – you’ll see there are people in need all around us. The warm reception shown to us in Peru can be magnified in our own communities. WE have a responsibility to our communities, to be involved, to reach out, to speak up and help. We have a responsibility to maintain the legacy begun in Peru founded on the LUTW principle that access to energy changes lives.
Back in Chuchinpampa we flip the breaker and light floods the vast single room community center. A cheer erupts among the group gathered for the occasion and somewhere outside fireworks are set off in broad daylight. We are told there will be a party here in the coming days. I’m sad to leave this place. The children who once shied at our arrival insist we play soccer with them one last time and the women line up to have their picture taken with us. We drive slowly down the mountain road amid eucalyptus trees murmuring in the wind – a 500 year vestige of Spanish colonization. In this land of dichotomies there is now one less hurdle to overcome: little by little we are lighting up the world.
Text by Rachel D’Eon, Volunteer from Enbridge