BUILDING BRIDGES … Wes Weir, an engineer with the international firm WSP, told Rotarians about the Bridges to Prosperity program that has built more than 400 trailbridges for poor, isolated communities in 21 countries since the organization was founded in 2001. In the last year, Wes led a 10-person WSP team on a bridge building project in Rwanda. The program was arranged by Kerri Weir, his wife and an Archbold Rotarian. (PHOTO PROVIDED / THE VILLAGE REPORTER)
For WSP, an international transportation infrastructure company with an office in Cleveland, Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) was a natural organization to partner with as the program has built more than 400 trailbridges since 2001 in isolated communities around the world.
Wes Weir, an engineer with WSP in their Cleveland office, recently led a 10-person team to Rwanda in the middle of the African continent.
Their mission: Build a cable suspension bridge over a river that basically separated the rural community in half.
Much of the community had no easy, dependable way to travel from their home to where the school and medical facility were located, especially when flooding made crossing the river dangerous, if not impossible.
He explained that Bridges to Prosperity’s basic mission is to address rural isolation as a root cause of poverty by building trailbridges that would connect villagers with services (schools, healthcare and economic development) that can improve their quality of life.
He said the area of Rwanda where his team spent two weeks finishing the bridge construction relied on subsistence farming.
Families raised what they needed to live and traded what they didn’t need for necessary supplies.
Prior to the team’s arrival, B2P staff took care of all of the logistics and arranged for all of the supplies needed to build the bridge to be sent to the area.
Local laborers were hired at $3 a day to carry those supplies to the construction site by hand and complete site preparation work, such as building the bridge abutments, before the team arrived.
Once the team arrived at the nearest airport, they were transported to the village where they stayed while working with the local laborers to finish the bridge.
Weir said they lived in basic housing with a cook who was provided by B2P to prepare their meals.
As the project wrapped up, he noted that a tremendous thunderstorm went through that caused the river to flood and destroy a small wooden bridge that had served as the villagers’ only way to cross the river.
The trailbridge that they had just finished remained high above the river providing the only safe way to cross from one side of the valley to the other.
Before leaving, B2P staff and the team showed the villagers how to maintain the bridge.
However, before leaving the WSP team was able to take a side trip to see the mountain gorillas that provide Rwanda with significant tourist income every year.
Weir explained their guides led them to a family of silverbacks that were only a short distance into the jungle. They spent an hour or so within 30 feet of the family.
Weir said that WSP’s next trip to Rwanda will be in the fall. This team will complete a larger suspension bridge than his team built — about 450 feet in length. They expect to complete the project within the allotted two-week period.