Co-op Voices

Small Steps Yield a Big Impact

By Anthony Ahern Published: February 2nd, 2012

In 1993, I was one of 19 volunteers who went to Honduras and installed a small hydroelectric system that would barely serve three or four homes in the United States. It was a remote rural area, but a missionary had a vision of building a medical clinic there. The problem was that no electric grid existed.

Anthony Ahern

Anthony Ahern

The missionary asked if I would get involved. I said yes, but frankly I could not have imagined the request would turn into a 20-year personal and spiritual commitment to help.

I’ve been in Honduras many times since then to work on other projects and occasionally to repair and upgrade this humble little electric system. Last March I returned as a volunteer to work on a bridge project led by the Chicago chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Since the bridge project was close to the hydroelectric system, I was able to make an inspection.

I found that the electricity output was down by 30 percent. I forwarded the photos and data readings to the manufacturer of the hydro system. The conclusion was that the impeller and water nozzles likely were worn.

After securing the replacement parts and sending them to Honduras, I was back in late August, along with three other volunteers, for the repair effort. It was a great relief to me that with the new parts installed, the system came up to 100 percent power on the restart.

Today, with power from this little hydroelectric system, the medical clinic is staffed with a full-time doctor. Every year, several surgery teams of U.S. doctors and nurses typically perform 50 operations during a week-long trip. Numerous babies have been born, with the aid of electric lights instead of kerosene lanterns.

When surgeries aren’t being performed, the electricity powers an elementary school, a church and a discipleship training school.

I sometimes think all of that would not have happened—either to the people of this Honduran village or to me—if I hadn’t been asked to become involved or if all the other people involved in this effort had not been willing to help.

As a great nation, we tend to think of projects on a grand scale. But often the small steps we can help others take have more impact than can be imagined. One step at a time is how folks learn to make progress.

Twenty years ago, none of us could have foreseen the challenges and difficulties that would lie ahead. But I wonder if it would have made a difference. I’ve concluded that sometimes we are the better for not knowing the future—and taking one step at a time.

Anthony J. Ahern is president and chief executive officer of Ohio Rural Cooperatives, Inc., and Buckeye Power, Inc., Columbus, Ohio.

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