Mr. Mayor, Please Plug us in

When you’re working in small-town Guatemala, sometimes things are hard to plan for. Who could have thought that a year and a half after the dedication of the San Pablo clinic that we’d still be buying electricity from a neighbor a block away and running it via a hefty electric cord? 

For the first 7 months of 2015, ODIM Business Manager Pedro Mendez, tried his hand as a community organizer. His task: create unity out of a highly divided group of our neighbors and meet with the mayor to try and broker a deal in which the town would pay part of the cost, as there is an entire row of homes just below the clinic that also are without electric service. With our jerry-rigged system, we cannot run our ultrasound machine, refrigerator and kitchen equipment, or all of our lights. It looks like the total cost will be around $10,000 to buy right-of-ways, install utility poles, do the legal work and pay the electric company to connect us all.

As this is an election year, Pedro counselled our neighbors not to do anything that would irritate the current mayor. To his chagrin, several of our neighbors painted their homes in the color of the Patriot Party, a rival political party. The negotiation process unceremoniously screeched to a halt. The good news for trying again in 2016: our neighbors read their tea leaves correctly and the Patriot Party won the mayoral election in San Pablo.

ODIM holds no political affiliation and we seek to serve our often-divided communities evenhandedly. Still, we don’t work in a vacuum; what we often see is that in small Guatemalan communities where everybody knows everybody, complex and shifting alliances can move mountains. Although we advised against the move, we are hoping that the orange houses of our neighbors will help move electricity into our little part of town, powering our clinic to serve everyone in the town.