by Mariette Oosterhoff
If it’s summer, it’s tower painting time on the little island of Bonaire.
The annual endeavor has been underway for the past few months, the tiny figures of the tower maintenance team visible from afar as they scale TWR’s 478-foot radio towers on the southern end of this Caribbean island. Though their efforts definitely help keep the towers looking shipshape and impressive – jutting high into the deep-blue sky from a flat, treeless landscape – the work is not primarily decorative in nature.
“If we don’t paint them, there will be no towers left,” said Jonas Fischer, technical director of TWR Bonaire. “They will rust away and fall apart.”
No towers would mean no gospel radio programs reaching out from Bonaire to listeners in countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil and many more.
TWR radio station Shine 800 AM is located at a strategic spot. The salt flats upon which they stand and the salt water surrounding the island make it an ideal spot for transmitting radio waves across great distances.
All that salt water, however, combined with hot winds and a harsh climate, speeds up the rusting process and damages the towers. Cleaning, chipping, scraping and painting both towers is a priority every year. Two of the four towers undergo this renovation each year.
Slipping Isn’t Fun
As the tower maintenance team prepares for work each morning, riggers Lionel Cicilia, Luis Guilarte and Franson Jhon size up the task for the day. Which part will they chip, scrape, wash and prime? Is there a lot of rust? Then they have to concentrate on chipping and scraping. Not so much? Wash and prime. Bad weather approaching? They stay on the ground.
At about 9 a.m., the three riggers, outfitted in special gear that keeps them safe and enables them to do the hard work, are pulled up the side of the tower by a powerful winch. This year the men are using new safety harnesses, which are described as more comfortable and a big improvement.
“It is scary when you go too much to one side and slip,” Cicilia said of the work, done while hanging sometimes hundreds of feet in the air. “Slipping is not fun. Luckily, we have a good rope, although I prefer a bigger rope. In all we do, we need to pray. That’s why I pray all day.”
But it’s not just the labor done high on the tower where caution is paramount. Just getting to those lofty worksites requires extra care. Two TWR interns assigned to Bonaire this summer, Daniel Bollig and Quinton Foster, learned early that operating the winch that lifts them to those sites is critical.
“Before either one of us could touch the winch, we were told it was one of the most important jobs.” Foster said. “Working with the winch is working with their lives up there. If there is a problem, we have to stop.”
Having utterly reliable equipment for work of this kind is essential, Bollig added.
“I am impressed by how important the rope is,” Bollig said. “A rope is something used for thousands of years and is still the best thing for this work. I am also impressed by how strong the equipment is. It can hold thousands and thousands of pounds.”
The rope is replaced every two years, Fischer said.
Singing Spanish Songs
As demanding as the work is and as precarious as their tower perch is, Cecilia, Guilarte and Jhon take their jobs in stride. Ensconced in their safety harnesses and clinging to the metal structure, the team members chat, listen to the radio, sing and sometimes even “dance” a bit as they spray, chip, scrape and paint each day.
One day, Foster had to spend time high on the tower taking measurements.
“So I could see them working from close by,” he said. “They are pretty relaxed up there, singing Spanish songs and working really well together. I gained a lot of respect for them."
Along with the fresh (hot) air and tuneful working environment, another bonus experienced by the riggers is one of the best views you’re ever likely to see from an “office window.”
“Today there was an accident, and we could see it from the towers,” Cecilia said. “And when the weather is clear, we can even see Curacao and Venezuela!”
The island of Curacao is about 33 miles west of Bonaire, and the coast of Venezuela is about 55 miles south. Weather permitting, the tower maintenance team hopes to finish the two towers by the end of September.
The tower maintenance crew, left to right: Ivan Statia, Franson Jhon, Lionel Cecilia, intern Quinton Foster, Luis Guilarte, and intern Daniel Bollig [ photo by: Brad Swanson ]
Will You Pray?
While Cecilia, Guilarte and Jhon take care of the high, hot, heavy maintenance of the towers, would you consider supporting them and the vital outreach from Bonaire by praying with us in the following ways?
- Please pray for the health and safety of the team and for good weather as they complete their responsibilities.
- Please pray that the equipment they rely on, including the power winch, would hold up and enable them to do the job in a timely and safe manner.
- Finally, please pray that the many programs broadcast from these towers across Latin America and the Caribbean would reach many listeners, some tuning in and hearing the life-changing message of Jesus Christ for the first time.
Mariette Oosterhoff is the Director of Marketing and Communications for TWR in Latin America
[ photos by Brad Swanson ]