Can you imagine a world without electricity? Actually, nearly 80% of Cambodian homes do not have electricity. In 2002 God led us to start our first Imparting Smiles children home in Kracheh, Cambodia. In a province of more than 300,000, most have no electricity. None of the children we help came from villages with any electricity, or clean water source, or even proper road access. So, for nearly a decade we have been running and building the Imparting Smiles home on a side of hill one building at a time. We built nearly everything ourselves. We planted every tree, painted every board, and drove every nail. Now it is a center which hosts 72 full-time children and up to 10 adults in 5 residential buildings and 3 smaller buildings. It’s quite a place. Only there is no electricity.
A couple of years ago the government teased us by putting an electric pole right in front of our property. Only, two years on, there are still no wires attached to the poles and the closest electric generator does not have the capacity to add one more house, much less 8 buildings!
Four years ago I met a guy, Joe Gustai, at Gate Church in Victorville, California who said he was going to send a wind turbine overseas. I tried not to ask jealous, but I told him. . . please send me one! We are not trying to reduce our electric bill, we are just trying to get some electricity. Joe starting getting things set in place. There were huge hurdles to get over. . .
- Shipping a huge wind turbine, tower and all the parts to Cambodia
- Getting the container through customs
- Getting it all through customs without paying bribes
- Not to mention installing the thing in Cambodia with no equipment (cranes, bulldozers, power-tools)
From time to time I think each of us lost hope several times. The big block came when I contacted Cambodian customs. I do things by the book, no bribes. So I asked about the costs of customs and one item floored me. Batteries. The batteries harness the electrical power and then it can be converted from DC to AC power. Only these batteries are not Duracell which you can buy at Wal-Mart. There are 24 batteries which weigh 300 pounds each! Well, the problem is in Cambodia the customs charges according to amperage. Each battery was 1500 amps. Customs wanted to charge $0.50 per amp. Here’s the dollars and cents of that: $0.50 per amp x 1500 amps x 24 batteries = $18,000. My heart hit the floor. It took me a year to pick it up.
Then one day I met the Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia (long story). As I was talking with him I felt impressed to tell him about my “battery dilemma”. After all, this was a wind turbine for poor and orphaned children, not a business. I was so scared. Finally, at the end of our visit, the DPM said goodbye and started to walk away.
I gathered all my courage “Excuse me your Excellency. . . could I tell you about one of my problems.”
Long story made short. . . his answer brought a huge smile to my face. He replied, “This is but a small problem. The government will take the tax burden upon itself.”
Wow, that was it. A micro-miracle. $18,000 blown away in a moment.
Shipping proceeded. The governor of Banteay Meanchey guaranteed the shipment into Cambodia. We paid the truck drivers and they delivered the wind turbine right to the spot that the DPM had heard my request. Only. . . it was on the wrong side of Cambodia!
Still another long story compressed, we needed more help from government officials. Also more favors from trucking companies and we hauled the container all the way to Kracheh. The last two miles were the most nerve racking. We had to cross two old wooden bridges with a cargo ten times heavier than they were built to handle. I think some angels may have got a pretty good workout, because the bridges held.
All that I just wrote about lasted four years. We were learning patience.
Now, we had to install it: A steel tower 100 feet high weighing tens of thousands of pounds, capped off with a thousand pound turbine head! Joe sent me precise instructions. Concrete footings poured at exactly 5000 psi, laser leveled precisely to the millimeter, a 140 foot crane, on-site equipment and power. At one point I told him, “Think of America 200 years ago, that is what Kracheh is like.” No crane, no power tools, and no laser levels. Just brute strength and ingenuity. The kids, staff and I at Imparting Smiles center prepared the footings, poured the concrete ourselves. We unloaded the container and those immensely heavy batteries ourselves. Then the four man “dream team” came from Gate Church in Victorville to install the tower.
We worked hard for nearly a week. We needed plenty of miracles too. A crucial winch broke leaving us unable to raise the tower into place. That winch was a specialized $4,500 tool (made in China) precisely designed to raise a tower. It failed. There was no way to fix it in Cambodia. What we needed was a large bulldozer or very heavy truck to attempt to raise the tower. After visiting the owner of every heavy piece of equipment in the province, we finally found the owner of an old Soviet era KAMAZ truck willing to give it a shot (we didn’t exactly tell him how big and heavy the tower was). After a nerve wracking few minutes and every ounce of force left in that Soviet truck, we got the tower up. (I think the angels were ready for a break after that!)
So after nearly a decade of raising 72 children, for the first time, they can turn on a light bulb whenever they want to. Watching that wind turbine spinning in the wind brought tears to all of our eyes. Finally. There is electricity in the Imparting Smiles center in Kracheh province.
Thanks Joe. Thanks Gate Church. Thanks Cambodian Government. Thanks kids for all the work. Thanks angels.
Here are some pictures below which show the installation: