Cooperative Development Associate
I am 24 years old, and I am living the dream. I was a Mid-South Synergy lineman in Texas for a year and now I help build distribution grids in developing countries. I live in Haiti and Washington, DC—every day when I am in Haiti, I see how electricity is the first stepping stone to many possibilities.
I’m living my dream because the co-op network took an interest in me and helped me. It started when Mid-South Synergy sponsored me to go to Washington DC for NRECA’s Government in Action Youth Tour in 2008. And as a Youth Leadership council member, I was invited to attend the NRECA Annual Meeting in 2009. I was asked to help serve food at the annual NRECA International luncheon. There I learned how putting a single street light in the middle of nowhere can give people hope. I listened to a speech about electrification work in South Sudan, and I knew right away what I wanted to do with my life.
In college, I lost my academic scholarships because of my dismal study habits and class attendance. So I turned to the United States Marine Corps to pay for my tuition. In some ways, this is when my improbable journey to Haiti began. My parents told me they weren’t going to fund a college education that I wasn’t taking seriously, so I made my way to the Marine Corps recruitment center. There I was turned away by a wise friend, and encouraged to apply after I got my degree. I signed up for the Marine Corps Platoon Leadership Pre-flight program but was soon determined unqualified after being diagnosed as color blind. Broke but still determined to get a college degree, I needed a job. Using my Youth Tour contacts I called Dennis McWhorter, a high school teacher and Mid-South Synergy board member. Mid-South Synergy CEO Kerry Kelton was with him when he received my call. Next thing I know, I’m reporting for duty at this rural electric cooperative where I worked full time until I graduated from college.
I changed my college degree to Community Development after that inspirational speech in 2009 and my co-op employer listened to me talk about my dreams. They helped me look for ways to give power to people in developing countries. I even had my bags packed to travel to South Sudan as a volunteer lineman in 2012—but the political situation was too volatile. I didn’t go. Then in the summer of 2013, I visited a Youth Tour friend in Washington DC, who was working at NRECA. She told me about a job opening at NRECA International. It was like this was all planned out for me. I applied right away, with my mentor Kerry Kelton as one of my biggest supporters. In August 2013, I stepped out of an airplane onto the hot tarmac in Haiti.
The international work we do is lean and mean. If something needs to be done, you do it. The goal is to give electricity to as many people as possible. Two months before I arrived in Haiti, three Mid-South Synergy linemen friends volunteered here to connect a community of 350 houses constructed of concrete blocks, sticks and mud. Their stories about how hard it was stuck with me. It was a privilege to help finish the work they started. Thanks to them, the Jacqueziel community received electricity for the first time when we turned on the lights in September 2013. There were people clapping and dancing, and crying – I knew then that this is the best job ever.
I know I can’t be everything to everyone. But a kid got hurt after throwing a rope over a power line. He just didn’t know any better. The next time I was back in the US, my NRECA International colleagues loaded me up with crayons and educational coloring sheets. When I got back to Haiti, I talked to the school principal about teaching the kids safety around power lines. They climb trees all the time during mango season. Soon the 50 students in this school had their first general assembly ever. We talked about how to live safely around electricity. Then we handed out crayons and coloring sheets, and colored together.
What we do here is sustainable. US linemen have learned many valuable lessons over the past 70 years. Many of those lessons were learned through injury and death on the job. My personal goal in Haiti is to relay those lessons learned to the local employees in Haiti. I knew I was walking into uncertainty when I arrived in Haiti. But this is what I signed up to do. I’m a team player and a doer. I want to help supply power, and I’m living the dream. I get to be part of the first Haitian co-op being formed. I get to see lights getting turned on for the first time. I want to increase the quality of life for other people. That’s why I work for NRECA International.