Engineers reflect on a once in a lifetime experience in Rwanda


Five COWI volunteers have just returned from Kazabe, Rwanda where they helped the local community construct a life-changing footbridge.

Kazabe Bridge provides a direct link to both a local school and a community church. After two weeks of hard work and collaboration between COWI, WilkinsonEyre and the Bridges to Prosperity team on the ground, the bridge is already being put into use by the local community.

Our volunteers are back in the office and have been regaling us all with stories of their adventures in Rwanda.

Just another day with COWI

A typical day involved: waking up at 05.45 and getting to site at 7am, doing a few hours of construction, eating a lunch of rice, pasta, plantina and beans, followed by more construction.

For those with any energy, lunch also included a game of football with the children and running races on the way home.

“In the UK, we are accustomed to a 1-2 year design period, with a similar duration for construction. To construct a bridge in a little over a week using simple hand tools that you find in most DIY toolboxes felt like a breath of fresh air, and seeing such immediate results felt incredibly rewarding, despite being so very physically tired at the end of each day,” Oliver Stross recalls

Challenged by heavy rain

With heavy rain forcing the team to take cover in the tool shed and site kitchen, the team got a glimpse into why the previous attempts to construct a bridge using logs only lasted a year or so before being swept away. With the clay top soil and steep valley slopes, the river swells rapidly, with the water surface becoming turbulent as water from the previously dry irrigation channels joined the river, before meandering through the flood plain across sandbanks and rocks.

Despite this bad weather, the team finished the bridge within 2 weeks , with a fantastic sense of achievement.

The official opening saw the district Mayor cutting the ceremonial ribbon, followed by singing and dancing. The kids were soon jumping on the bridge, testing the robustness of the parapets as a throng of people followed the mayor in crossing the bridge.

An incredible experience

Talking about the experience, Oliver Stross, PM for the project said "I feel so proud of what the team has achieved over the last week. It feels strange to think that many of us only met a few weeks ago. The team worked well together and managed to produce a really fantastic bridge."

Speaking of the construction itself, Ollie said:

"We suggested some improvements to B2P's standard parapet design that led to a very clean and neat appearance that was also easier to build. The construction manager from B2P was really impressed and plans to use this new detail in the future for all his bridges."

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Emma Wahlberg-Melvig
Head of Communication, Business Line International
Communication, Denmark

Tel: +45 56403896