In March 2020, sixteen lineworkers from Ohio's electric cooperatives flew to Guatemala to bring electricity to homes, schools, and churches in two remote villages. As the Ohio crew focused on the Tierra Blanca Sebol project in north-central Guatemala, their cooperatives back home were dealing with the escalating spread of COVID-19 and increasingly stringent government restrictions in both Central America and the United States. The workers hurried to complete the project ahead of schedule as they learned that the Guatemalan borders were closing. The team arrived at the airport only to see their flight home had been cancelled. They were stranded in Guatemala City.
As Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives (OEC) and NRECA International worked frantically on plans to bring the linemen home, fortune came by way of a phone call to U.S. Representative Bill Johnson and his contact, Guatemalan Ambassador Manuel Espina. NRECA International arranged a charter plane to pick up the lineworkers while Rep. Johnson and Ambassador Espina persuaded the Guatemalan government to allow the volunteers to leave and the Miami airport to let them land. The next morning, the volunteers boarded a commercial flight for Columbus where OEC leaders greeted them at the airport and took them on buses to co-op headquarters to reunite with their families.
Rep. Johnson joined Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives CEO Pat O’Loughlin, COLT Lead Instructor Kyle Hoffman and Union Rural Electric Cooperative CEO Anthony Smith at the annual Summer Conference to present the crew with much-deserved tokens of appreciation for their work in Guatemala.