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I-TEC – Supplying Power to the Underserved

While it may be most likely the majority of area residents have no knowledge of the whereabouts of Green Hollow Road, for millions of residents of Third World countries, the Lycoming County rural back road has literally been the launching pad for a precious service that has both improved and saved the lives of their

While it may be most likely the majority of area residents have no knowledge of the whereabouts of Green Hollow Road, for millions of residents of Third World countries, the Lycoming County rural back road has literally been the launching pad for a precious service that has both improved and saved the lives of their fellow countrymen.

Located a few hundred yards east of Route 87, three miles north of Montoursville, in what once housed a lumber yard, sits the worldwide nerve center of I-TEC, a Christian based, volunteer-driven, not-for-profit 501C 3 charitable organization serving its mission to provide electrical support to hospitals, orphanages and Christian mission stations in Third World or developing countries across the globe.

Like so many ideas and innovations over the years, what today is known as I-TEC was born when one man saw a need and had both the expertise and inspiration to do something about it.

That man was Tom Garber, a lineman with 32 years of utility service for PPL, who had traveled to Peru in 1986 to assist in putting in a power line to a large facility that had lost the generator that supplied them with power resulting in several hundred people being totally out of power for almost a month. A line needed to be built to connect the facility with the national power system that was located miles away. After the task was successfully completed Garber realized the significance of what they had done.

“These people couldn’t run power lines. They were missionaries. Their whole focus is starting churches, running hospitals and helping people survive. But I knew how to run power lines and wanted to do what I could to help in these kinds of situations. So out of that 1986 experience, the roots were planted that grew into what became Tech-Serve in 1989 and then into I-TEC — what we are today — in 2006.”

The Montoursville location is the home base for the entire I-TEC operation. It has no paid employees and is a completely volunteer-driven mission with between 150-200 volunteers participating from across the USA. According to Garber, “We have not run into another mission around the world that does what we do.

“Our primary mission is to come along side of Christian hospitals, orphanages and mission stations worldwide and support them with their electrical needs,” Garber explained. “In most of these third world countries an electrical grid is either non-existent or so inconsistent that a lot of these places can’t function, especially hospitals that really require good power.

“Even though we are organized as a 501 C 3 humanitarian organization, we simply do not have enough volunteers to provide power everywhere it is needed so we focus on Christian organizations.”

Many missions contact I-TEC to install a new electrical infrastructure, or to replace or repair an existing system that is inadequate or damaged from years of neglect. I-TEC’s network of qualified, volunteer electricians install overhead high voltage and underground low voltage systems. Additionally, they repair and upgrade disconnects, panels, and internal circuits. They also will install systems that are powered by batteries and inverters; backed by standby generators.

“We try to really focus on Christian orphanages and hospitals because they are the ones that we feel provide both physical and spiritual healing. They serve a much-needed purpose and do it well, but they can’t do it if they are limited by a lack of electricity,” stressed Garber. “We see it over and over again, even in good quality hospitals, where their equipment burns up just because the voltage fluctuates so much, or they may only have power for a limited amount of time each day or each week. Simply put, what we do is to power missions worldwide.

“The people that are faced with these dire situations did not have the capabilities of addressing their power needs. But we have the expertise to help them, so we began to put together teams of volunteers and pretty soon individuals from all across the country joined us in what we were doing.

“We don’t advertise, but when, through word-of-mouth, we receive a request for help somewhere in the world we begin a conversation to find out if it is possible for us to be involved in what they are doing. If it is determined that we might be able to help, we will send a survey team of up to eight people to the location. We will then put together a proposal and give that to the mission organization. It is then up to them to raise the funds needed to purchase the materials needed for the project. Some of these projects exceed a million dollars and we are too small of an organization to engage in those kinds of fundraising activities.

“Once our proposal is accepted and the funds are raised our warehouse goes to work. We put together shipping containers that contain everything that is needed and tested so that when we get to the installation site we will be set to go. Depending on the needs of each project the containerized power systems (PowerPac) will either be 20 or 40 feet long. Once those containers have been sent and cleared through customs, we will send a volunteer work team. Many of those folks will be from right here in the Williamsport/Montoursville area. Others will come from inquiries we put on our web site or we might directly contact electricians or other technicians needed for the project.

“The volunteers pay for their own airfare. Most of the time, the missions will provide the housing and meals. We provide the expertise to make sure they get a project that is well done, that is sustainable and will last them for many years without anyone being there for ongoing upkeep. We are also able to do that through constant monitoring via the internet,” added Garber.

To date, I-TEC has installed power facilities in over 35 countries round the world, noting that in Africa 85% of the population is not served by a power grid. While some have been located in cities the majority are rural areas because in these countries the power lines don’t go into the countryside. Many of the projects have been located miles away from the nearest power line. But even in some of the cities there are instances that because there isn’t enough power, the power will be on for six hours and off for 12 hours.

“Wherever we’ve been we are there because of power issues,” added Michael Fisher an I-TEC volunteer since 2009 “They lack power and at some point, they contact us because they need more power. The power we provide will give them electricity on a 24/7 basis.

“It’s just overwhelming the need for reliable power. Imagine your worst health crises and arriving at the front door of the hospital only to find that the power has been out for several days. There are people inside the hospital, but yet the treatments of serious issues are going unmet because there’s no electricity. Having the knowhow and the technology required for life-saving surgery at hospitals can only be used when electricity is available. That is what we do, provide that vital electricity.

“Solar energy has become the primary source we use. If it is not solar it will be provided by a generator. Once we setup the solar panels the energy collected will be stored in battery packs that are very large, 50 thousand pounds, so it can be inverted to AC and used at night.

“Solar power can mean life or death in the countries served and has resulted in thousands of lives being saved.”

While conflicts with government entities around the world have been few Garber reflected on some Honduras red tape that delayed the completion of a project for almost a year.

“There have been instances where we’ll run into some governmental restrictions. In Honduras, we ran a four-mile power line and we turned it over to the government to take care of as they had agreed to do. They didn’t have the material to build the line that went to a boys’ school for street kids. When the line was completed, they wouldn’t allow us to attach onto their power line. They wanted to do that. Then they wanted money to complete the connection. The mission did not have the money, nor was it legally required, so they refused to hook onto the line for quite a while. It took nearly a year before they completed the hook-up which was like a one-minute job.

“Some countries are very code-driven while in others there aren’t any codes what-so-ever. We build our power units based upon the codes in the USA and, for the most part, are able to duplicate that in the countries we have served. “

Asked how I-TEC volunteers are received in their missions around the world, Garber painted a positive picture.

“90+% of the places we go we are received very positive. We went to Afghanistan in 2003 and in the middle of what was going on we were received well. We try to include the national people wherever we go and have them work alongside us. Needed jobs such as trenching, digging and concrete pouring, all that can be done by national workers and they take pride in helping us.

“The next project we are working on will be in Liberia, which will be a very, very large project. It will be a Tesla micro-grid system with 1,500 or so solar panels that will take several months to complete. We will be having volunteers who will come for two or three weeks, with some staying much longer. Some will come with their families while others will just be regular people that want to be involved with the mission.”

Goods and services produced by Lycoming County worksites are well-known around the world. Airplane engines from Textron, vacuum cleaners from Shop-Vac, Pop Tarts from Kellogg’s and the goodwill of Little League Baseball have helped put our area on the international map. But none have provided the life-saving service emanating from I-TEC’s little-known site on Green Hollow Road.

I-TEC’s ongoing mission is supported by monetary contributions and gifts of goods and services around the country. Additional information on what they do and how they do it can be found on their website http://www.itec.org.

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