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Volunteer bridge builders are ready to get their hands dirty

Photo: cowi

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​Ten COWI employees are soon off to Rwanda to build a footbridge with the non-profit organisation Bridges to Prosperity. The purpose is to help local residents out of rural isolation. But the departure date is approaching quickly and the team is under pressure …

​28.11.2016

For nearly 10 weeks every year, approximately 850 residents in a village in the South region of Rwanda are cut off from the rest of the community, due to the high water levels that make the nearby Akanyaru river impassable. This means that children are unable to attend school and farmers are prevented from selling their harvest at the market securing their livelihood.

However, this is about to change. With the volunteer help of ten dedicated COWI colleagues, a 60 metre suspended footbridge is going to be built approximately 100 metres downstream from the existing timber bridge that is overtopped when the river floods.

"Access is such a fundamental thing. If you can’t get to basic facilities – to school, to medical aid, to market to trade your crops or livestock etc. – the chances of escaping poverty are slim. Simple as that. The planned Rugusa Bridge in Rwanda will be another important step towards bringing people out of isolation," says Ian Firth, Director of Flint & Neill and Chairman of the Bridges to Prosperity UK Trust.

Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) is a non-profit organisation providing isolated communities with access to essential health care, education and economic opportunities by building footbridges over impassable rivers. Since its beginning in 2001, the organisation has supported or constructed more than 200 footbridges in 20 countries, serving over one million people.

Making a difference away from your desk

Civil Engineer Rasmus Neigaard Lund Jensen is on the Rugusa Bridge Team, and he didn’t have to think twice about signing up:

"I think it is a great opportunity to making a difference while getting my hands dirty and actually constructing a bridge instead of only doing the drawings and calculations behind a desk. In addition, the projects I normally work on are much bigger and much longer underway. With a footbridge we will see the results of our work and the difference it makes after only a few weeks," explains Rasmus Neigaard Lund Jensen from Bridges Scandinavia, COWI.

However, there is a big challenge ahead of the team. While COWI and Flint & Neill will sponsor materials, equipment and other expenses on location, the volunteer team needs to fund raise their own expenses to cover air travel, local in-country costs etc. With less than two months before departure and Christmas in between the pressure is on:

"COWI's original time slot was in summer 2017, but B2P needed a team in January/February. So COWI has stepped up to the challenge. But we have a great and very organized team and good support from B2P and former teams, so I am sure we will succeed," says Johan Aabech, engineer in Bridges International, COWI, and part of the Rugusa Bridge Team.

About Bridges to Prosperity

​In March 2001, Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) founder, Ken Frantz, saw a photo in National Geographic Magazine that moved him to action and inspired the formation of B2P.

The image showed men dangling precariously, using ropes to pull each other across a wide, high and broken bridge span over a portion of the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. Shortly after, Ken, who owned a construction company, donated time, money and materials, and enlisted eager family members, friends and his Rotary Club to support the inaugural Bridges to Prosperity project at Sebara Dildiy in Ethiopia.

Now, 15 years later, Bridges to Prosperity envisions a world where poverty caused by rural isolation no longer exists, and it is through the support of organisations like COWI that the charity is able to change the lives and livelihoods of so many people in the poorest rural communities.

Results

Improve Access

  • School attendance: increase 12%
  • Visits to health care facilities: increase 18%
  • Pedestrian, livestock traffic: increase 100-500%

Increase Commerce

  • Number of retail businesses: increase 15%
  • Employed women in community: 24%
  • Per capita increase in 2 years: 10-20%

LAST UPDATED: 17.10.2017