Each month, follow the project led by Electricians whithout borders in the Amazon region

Here is our second interview with Project Leader Bernard Bonnefoy. We follow up on the first deployment in five villages located a day’s travel away by dugout canoe along the Madre de Dios River.

Electricians whithout borders in the Amazon region

Bernard, please recount your arrival at Puerto Maldonado…

After a 15-hour flight from Marseilles via Madrid, we landed in Lima by night.

The following day, after crossing the Andes Cordillera, we arrived at Puerto Maldonado, we found the town in a state of siege, occupied by the police and military detachments. Six thousand gold-diggers wanted to battle it out with the authorities, and traffic was brought to a halt by demonstrations.

Our photovoltaic equipment supplier’s agent on location told us that the inverters and refrigerators had not been delivered yet but were expected soon…

In spite of this, we decided to leave for the villages of Lagarto and Boca Union. These two villages are located east of Puerto Maldonado and accessible by road and by boat from the port of Laberinto. We thought – wrongly! – that it would be easier for us to start from a port distant from Puerto Maldonado!

After loading our truck, we managed to get round roadblocks and to rejoin the small town of Laberinto after four-hour drive. In the port area, strikers were facing the army, boats were stranded, and there was no fuel. We were turned back and had a narrow escape! 

We were forced to return to Puerto Maldonado.

Electricians whithout borders in the Amazon region

How did you manage to leave Puerto Maldonado?

The night after we returned, the Apronia organization held a “council of war”. Apronia’s representative, Father Xavier Arbex, offered to lend us the organization’s boat. The only condition was to leave early in the morning in a quieter direction, heading for three villages at the Bolivian border – Palma Real, Lago Valencia, and Sonene.

The next morning, after a day’s travel in dugout canoe, we reached the first village, Palma Real. We were expected there, as Father Xavier had been able to inform the village nurse by radio. We then started visiting the installations to be made.

The works were initiated by a small team of three ESF members, plus Manuel, an electrical engineer from Puerto Maldonado, and Juan Carlos, a teenager from the orphanage who wanted to learn the trade. Villagers also gave us a hand.

Within two days, we completed the electrical installations for the healthcare delivery point, one classroom, the head teacher’s office, and two teachers’ bedrooms. We installed photovoltaic panels, battery packs, regulators, electrical wiring, ground outlets and electrical protections, complete with circuits, power outlets and lighting…

The installations for the first village were completed on the second day’s night with the help of headlamps. However, they were not operating because we had not received the inverters yet!

We managed to explain that we would come back to finish the work.

Electricians whithout borders in the Amazon region

How did the mission go in the second village? 

The next day, we headed off for the second village, Lago Valencia.
In two days’ work, we installed the photovoltaic and electrical equipment for the healthcare delivery point and classrooms in Lago Valencia.

Then we returned to Puerto Maldonado, after promising to come back because, although most installations are completed, none of them are operating for lack of inverters and fridges!

We are eager to go back there to finish the work.

Electricians whithout borders in the Amazon region

To be continued next month, with:

  • The social situation in Puerto Maldonado
  • Our trouble with the equipment
  • The completion and commissioning of photovoltaic and electrical installations
  • Further detail about the daily life with Indians in these villages…