Local 804 Volunteers Improve Facilities for Needy Children in Guatemala

In April, the IBEW Local 804 Retirees Club organized a 10-day volunteer trip to Guatemala to perform needed electrical upgrades at home for needy children.

May 23, 2019 – The IBEW Local 804 Retirees Club has been actively involved in volunteering for many years, and recently they undertook one of their biggest volunteer adventures yet – a 10-day project in Parramos, Guatemala.

“The Retirees Club meets monthly, and in October 2018 Margaret Blair, the CEO of Friends of the Orphans Canada (FOTOCAN) attended our meeting” Jerry Wilson, the recording secretary for the club, explains. “FOTOCAN is an organization that fundraises for children around the world. Margaret talked about her work in Haiti and other countries around the world, and it really resonated with us. We actually sponsored a child in Haiti after her presentation.”

The following month, Terry Donaghy, a coordinator at FOTOCAN, also gave a presentation about his involvement with volunteer trips to Guatemala. “Terry stated that there was a home for needy children in Parramos, Guatemala in need of upgraded electrical work – and that’s right up our alley,” Jerry says.

Creating the Group for Guatemala

The club decided that this was a perfect job for them, and put together a team of volunteers to travel to Guatemala and complete the upgrades. To reach the required number of volunteers, Jerry reached out to the active members of Local Union 804. In total the club assembled a team of 13 – 9 electricians (a mix of retirees and non-retired members), 3 family members and Terry Donaghy to act as a guide throughout the project. “FOTOCAN relies on donations and fundraising to complete projects and assist children, and that’s what we did. Everyone paid their own way with a donation of $2,700, which went towards airfare, meals, and materials for the upgrade,” Jerry explains.

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From left to right: Eric Hunter, Sandy Fair, Shannon Brinkman, Stu Begg, Manuel (our guide), Brandon Walesa, Gregg Snyder, Wendy and Neil Whittaker, Terry and Jerry Wilson, Allan Shuh, and Gerry Snyder.

Bringing Safety and Light to Over 100 Children

Once the group arrived in Parramos, they were taken to Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Our Little Brothers and Sisters). “The home for children is situated on a 25 acres property with multiple buildings, and then dorms for the senior girls and boys in Chimaltenango, about 15 minutes away. The girls’ and boys’ dorms required the most work,” explains Neil Whittaker, a member of the club and volunteer electrician on the trip.

The team started in the boys’ dorm by installing new panels and pipes to upgrade the distribution services, then re-fed the existing circuits. This was challenging, as they were working through both solid concrete and a language barrier.

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Installation of a new panel in the boys’ dormitory.

Another challenge was understanding the standards of the area. “We had to adapt as the standards we have in Canada are different than the ones here. But we were able to confidently work with the materials and make marked improvements,” Neil says.

The girls’ dorm had experienced a fire and as such, the team first had to re-install the service before starting the same upgrades as the boys’ dormitory. “Some of girls were complaining about a tingle when they showered, and when we looked we could see 70 volts reading while the water was running,” Neil explains. “We installed the correct breaker and ran a new wire.”

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Installation of a brand new panel in the girls’ dormitory (on the right).

Electrical upgrades were also completed at the main compound in Parramos, where younger children, classrooms, and offices were located. “We installed about 1,000 feet of wire and dusk to dawn yard lights so that children and the volunteers could walk at night,” Jerry explains.

At the end of a job well done, there were definitely some overwhelming feelings. “Some of the senior girls and boys came to thank us for making such life-changing improvements, and gave us handmade bracelets and posters. There were definitely a few tears,” says Neil with a smile.

“This was the greatest group of people. At the end of the job, a lot of the guys donated their tools to the head of maintenance at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, Luis. He was so grateful for this show of generosity, and it will allow students who were with us to continue hands on learning,” says Jerry.

Part of the Volunteer Community

While the electricians worked on the buildings, Wendy Whittaker, Terry Wilson and her daughter Shannon participated in several special projects on the compound, including:

  • The recycling program
  • English classes
  • The sensory garden for children with special needs.
  • Dressing rooms.
  • Cooking – including making fresh tortillas.

“In the evenings we played games with the Guatemalan volunteers,” says Terry. “We played UNO, and taught each other the numbers in our own languages.”

“It was an incredible experience,” Wendy adds.

This trip did have a couple days reserved for sightseeing. “We went to Ixmiche and the ancient Mayan ruins, Chichicastenango and the huge open air market, and Antigua to celebrate Palm Sunday,” Jerry says.

Making a Positive, Lasting Impact

“Working with FOTOCAN and Terry Donaghy was incredible. They were so organized, and they’re doing so much. Guatemala – the Country of Eternal Spring – is a beautiful country, and places like Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos are doing wonderful things to help children.”

“It’s so important to give back, and it meant a lot to us to get to do it with some electricians from Local 804. It shows active members that even when they retire, they can always be a part of something. Best of all, we get to continue learning from each other,” says Jerry.

Now that they’re home, attention has already turned to the next adventure. “We would absolutely do it again – in fact we’re already considering what our next volunteer trip might be,” Jerry says.

To learn more about Friends of the Orphans Canada, visit their website here.