Retired electricians repair wiring in Guatemalan school

ELORA – A team of nine Canadian electricians and three family members, including five Wellington County residents, travelled to Guatemala to fix the wiring in student dormitories at a children’s home in April.

The team, made up of retired and active Local 804 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)  electricians and one apprentice, spent eight days putting in new wires, breakers and grounding rods in the senior boys’ and girls’ dormitories.

Among them were Elora residents Jerry and Terry Wilson and Speedside residents Neil and Wendy Whittaker.

“We drove ground rods, in most cases there was no overload protection or the breakers were totally the wrong size,” explained Jerry Wilson.

“There were no shut-offs,” added Neil Whittaker.

“No weatherproofing or anything like that and it was all within children’s reach,” said Terry Wilson, a retired teacher.

Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) children’s home outside of Parramos, Guatemala is home to approximately 75 students and  affiliated with Friends of the Orphans Canada (FOTOCAN), an international charity.

A further 45 senior students live in NPH dormitories 20 minutes away in Chimaltenango so they can attend high school. It was in Chimaltenango the team worked on the student dormitories.

“If we were [in Canada] and sent to do a project, we would probably at least have some existing drawings or a blueprint of some kind or some information from the engineer,” said Jerry.

“We were asking for information for months before we went down but nothing ever came in. When we saw the job we were seeing it for the first time.”

Ahead of the trip Neil Whittaker tried researching the electrical code for Guatemala.

“The first thing that came up on the Google search was how to take a shower without electrocuting yourself,” he said.

Soon he and the rest of the team found firsthand that it was a daily issue. In the girls’ dormitories, exposed wires in the shower heads used to heat the water were electrocuting students.

“When they showered they were getting about 70 volts,” said Wendy Whittaker.

It was one of the many repairs the team was able to make to improve the dormitories. Others included  installing 13 outdoor lights in the NPH compound to light a particularly dark and dangerous stretch of road.

“The people that were there weren’t prepared for nine men who could accomplish a whole lot in a day so they were so pleased with the amount of work that was done,” said Terry.

Each of the 13 members of the group paid $2,700 to cover their room and board, transportation and the materials purchased to complete the various projects.

“They were so grateful to have their facilities made safe at no cost to them,” said Jerry.

The Wilsons and Whittakers were overwhelmed by the services the children’s home and school provided the community and the youths.

“What a tremendous service this organization is doing for these young people because they would be homeless likely and they end up educated and bilingual and employable,” Jerry added.

Unable to assist with electrical work, Wendy Whittaker, Terry Wilson and daughter Shannon Brinkman volunteered at the main NPH site, working  to clear brush in the gardens and helping with classes.


Terry Wilson had already experienced teaching in Guatemala after winning a scholarship to teach and study there following her university graduation in the late 1960s.

She described the trip like “coming home” and marvelled at the opportunity to see the country again after so many years.

Her experience was one of the reasons the group opted to volunteer with the home.

A member of the Local 804 IBEW retiree committee, Jerry and Terry Wilson attend annual meetings that feature guest speakers.

At a November 2018 meeting the pair was struck by a presentation by FOTOCAN speaker Terry Donaghy, also a retired teacher with great experience volunteering in Guatemala, who informed members about NPH and the home’s need for electrical work.

The retirees club already has experience with charitable work, helping to wire Habitat for Humanity homes  and adopting a child in Haiti.

Jerry and Terry Wilson brought the idea of organizing a trip to Guatemala to members of the retiree’s club and then to the Local 804.

Jerry Wilson and Neil Whittaker  were impressed by how well the group worked together, having not previously known some members.

“The demographics of the group made the trip. For 13 people that really didn’t know each other very well before … they were great people to get along with,” said Neil Whittaker.

“Nobody ever said ‘well, I am not doing that …’ everybody just said ‘let’s get’er done,’” Jerry Wilson added.

For Wendy Whittaker and Terry Wilson, it was the gratitude of the NPH community that made the trip.

“I think we got way more out of it than we put in; just even your outlook on life, you really appreciate how lucky you are,” said Wendy Whittaker.