Inspirational Publié le 02 juillet 2019

Catherine Bouguer: “It’s rewarding to collaborate and devote our time to a worthy cause”

For some people, retiring is not a finish line but an opportunity to fully explore the unfamiliar territory ahead. Three years ago, Catherine Bouguer was about to retire from a long career as a marketer. However, far from limiting herself to retiring stereotypes, she decided her career was not over. In her view, that stage of life was not an end point but an opportunity both to put her knowledge and expertise at the service of a worthy cause and to continue doing intellectual work. That was how she decided to volunteer in the NGO Electricians sans frontières as a Regional Delegate and Project Coordinator.

Question: Why Electriciens sans frontières?
I’ve always wanted to take part in an NGO and I found Electriciens sans frontières particularly interesting. My first motivation was that it was a way to continue intellectual work and be part of an association that works for a good cause. At the same time, I could continue doing my job, because in order to develop any project you need to focus on communication, and marketing besides finding partners. I worked for Electricity of France, so I was excited to work in favour of access to electricity and water.

In France, we are approximately 1300 volunteers in Electriciens sans frontières. It’s a relatively small organization if we compare it to others, such as Doctors Without Borders. What I liked the most is that we share the same philosophy: helping people, contributing to change reality in different places and committing to bringing and installing photovoltaic panels, solar pumps and generators. It’s rewarding to collaborate and devote our time to a worthy cause. Despite the difficulties that may arise, we always do what’s in our hands in order to help.

Q: What do you think are the skills an Electricians sans frontières volunteer should have?
A lot of people are coming to ESF because they want to aid people in poverty and do humanitarian work. They usually have a technical background, but there is a place for everyone. Electriciens sans frontières looks for people that work on animation, communication, sponsorship, partnership and fund raising. You can’t do a project mission without that.

Q: You live in a first world country; how do you feel when you visit some of the poorest areas in the world?
A: I went to Dominica after hurricane Maria. I didn’t go there to help from the technical aspect, but because they needed someone who would speak to the authorities in order to determine where we could install the generators. We’re planning to install them in health centres, and we needed to know if it was possible.

The first thing that made me think when I went there was the sight of people smiling: they were open and positive although they were living something terrible. That caught my attention because in France people sometimes complain about small things or are pessimistic. Those people in Dominica had lost everything, but they were still smiling and eager to rebuild their island. I think we can all learn from that and be happy with what we have. I found that experience very rewarding and I’m looking forward to participating in another mission.



Q: How did Electriciens sans frontières carry electricity to Dominica?
In Dominica, it was difficult to access the island because they had lost 97% of their electricity. Our priority was to change this situation. We had a number of generators to install in health centers and schools. Electricity is also required to guarantee security, therefore we provided individual solar lamps that could also be used to charge mobile phones. This is essential because the use of mobile phones or radios allowed communication with the people who were on the other side of the island or allowed villagers to listen to the news.
Apart from that, we reinstalled water pumps so people could have access to water.

Q: Which are the action fields of Electriciens sans frontières? Do you work together with other organizations?
We have three action fields. The first field is development, which includes the creation of the project and the subsequent installation of photovoltaic panels, solar pumps or generators. This is the most important field as it takes 80% of our activity. We focus on rural areas and provide villagers with access to electricity. This is important for cooling medical supplies in health centres and to ensure evening teaching sessions at schools.

The second field is urgency or post-urgency. We are usually summoned by the Red Cross, and we intervene after a natural disaster, such as hurricanes or earthquakes.

The third field is technical assessment. We work with the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders or Rise Against Hunger when there is an electricity requirement. On one occasion, we worked together with Doctors Without Borders because they were planning to rebuild a hospital in Syria, so we participated in the reconstruction of the hospital.

Q: Which is the process of carrying electricity to poor or post urgency areas?
A: The philosophy of the organisation is to take action only when someone requests our aid. That is the first step: it’s important to understand the scene and identify the requirements. The second one is to build a team and assign a project manager. We gather the materials that are required and put them in containers. Then, we send them to the country in question, because usually it’s not possible for us to buy electrical equipment there. Fortunately, Electriciens sans frontières can rely on sustainable partnerships that provide electrical supplies. For instance, Prysmian Group, which provides us with cables. And once everything is set, we take action.

Apart from the sponsors or partners contributions, we involve the beneficiaries: the inhabitants of the place we are intervening. For example, in a project we developed in Laos, villagers helped us to carry the materials by foot and we gave them basic instructions for the use of the equipments.

Q: What happens after the installation?
We follow up the equipments up to ten years after they are installed. We teach villagers how to change the batteries, lamps and regulators of the equipment. The fact that volunteers teach and work together with villagers is an opportunity for them to create their own businesses or firms around that. So, it is also a way of creating new jobs.

Apart from teaching villagers, volunteers themselves check if equipments are still functional. So, when they develop a project in a country where other equipments have been previously installed, they check them and make reparations when necessary.

Photos: Electriens sans frontières / Catherine Bouguer