In February 2016, a team of ten volunteers from Thornton Tomasetti and Grimshaw travelled to Rwanda. In association with the charity, Bridges to Prosperity, we were scheduled to construct a 38 m suspended footbridge.
Bridges to Prosperity are a US charity with the goal of eliminating poverty caused by rural isolation by providing communities with access to healthcare, education and economic opportunities. They’re active in many countries throughout South America and Africa. And we were lucky enough to get involved in one of their projects. I was the Project Manager for the team, responsible for organising the trip and ensuring we crossed the finish line in time for the Inauguration Ceremony.
We spent two weeks in the Nyaruguru district working alongside Bridges to Prosperity and the local communities to build the Coko Bridge (pronounced Cho-ko). The bridge now serves a community of approximately 1,500 people. The primary source of income in the region is agriculture, and the bridge provides direct access to major markets. There is a high population of children in the area, and the only schools within walking distance are located on the far side of the river. Health care is also only available on one side of the river. Previously, the river was impossible to cross for at least six weeks out of each year, forcing community members to stay home. This was a significant hardship for anyone who was sick and unable to reach the health clinic; students who fell behind in their studies; and farmers who experienced interruptions to income.
We spent our days on site, working with a team of local people, constructing the bridge, and our evenings hanging out on the veranda drinking Fanta. I don’t think it’s possible to adequately put into words how amazing the experience was and how it effected me. There were so many highlights in such a short space of time. We really enjoyed interacting with the local community, especially playing games with the kids in the evening when we returned from site (we came prepared with footballs, Frisbees and skipping ropes).
It was also very rewarding to see members of the local communities testing out the bridge on Inauguration Day. The children had fun running across the bridge and jumping up and down on it. The older generation were more cautious. Some of them approached us to thank our team for helping their community and providing a safer way for them to cross the river.
Today, March 7th, marks the one year anniversary of the Coko Bridge Inauguration. In some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. Or a figment of my imagination. But of course, I have thousands of photos to remind me of every single moment.
More stories from the trip are in the November 2016 issue of Stellar.