The village of Amaguaya sits on the slopes of the Cordillera Real mountain range in Bolivia about 4,000 metres above sea level. Although it’s only just over 70 miles from La Paz, the journey there, mostly along a small single track, takes about five hours.
Despite their remoteness, Amaguaya’s 830 residents have recently witnessed an extraordinary transformation in their community.
Until 2014, Amaguaya was a village without power. But the installation of a 60 kw micro hydro plant has transformed the lives of the residents. Electricity has brought light, hot water, safe storage of vaccines and access to the internet, radio and TV.
The construction of the scheme was overseen by colleagues from Practical Action in Bolivia who also provided training on technical issues and managing the supply company. This included agreeing tariffs and awarding contracts and deciding how to resolve issues of non-payment of bills. Whilst the local authority will undertake major repairs, the community itself will continue to be responsible for day to day operations.
According to Vicente Poma Flores, the chief operator of the hydro-electric plant,
“Now we have a way, we have light, it is as if we are climbing the steps to a better and better life.”
Vicente grew up in the village and appreciates the transformation as much as anyone. According to Vicente,
“My children no longer damage their eyesight working by kerosene lamp,”
Street lighting has helped people to move around safely after dark and access to electricity in the home has given students more time to do their homework. Vicente has five children in school and sees the benefits for himself. New computer equipment has been acquired by the school to enrich the children’s education, with seven computers now available. Vicente recalls that when he was a child he studied with a lamp. He said that in those days, it felt as though they had been “forgotten”.
Earlier this year, our team in Bolivia revisited Amaguaya to see how things were progressing. One of the most striking impacts was that the availability of power had encouraged some former residents to return and resettle. A community that had been facing decline has turned the corner.
For those of us who’ve grown up with electricity, it can be almost impossible to imagine how much the advent of power can mean. But for Amaguaya, their new micro hydro scheme doesn’t just mean electricity, it also signals hope for a bright new future.
This article drew on Claudia Canales blog on her visit to Amaguaya in January 2015