WSP USA Volunteers Build Second Bridge for Rwanda Communities

For the second time this year, volunteers from WSP USA spent two weeks building a footbridge that will have a tremendous impact on lives in a remote Rwanda village.

Rudi Byron, Charlotte De Bettignies, Sarah Hoffman, Kevin Milligan and Derrick Rosenbach not only had an experience of a lifetime; it was also an innovative one.

In June, they were members of a second WSP USA team, this one sponsored by The Berger Charitable Foundation, that partnered with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) and American Bridge to construct the 50-meter Karambi Steel Suspension Bridge that spans the Mwogo River and associated floodplain in the Gasumba municipality of Rwanda.

“I was honored to be a part of this bridge team,” said Hoffman, who is a senior environmental planner for WSP. “From the moment I watched a documentary that highlighted the group’s mission to connect communities separated by water systems, I walked away wanting to be a part of that vision.”

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©2019 WSP USA

When the river floods three months out of the year access to resources are cut off. The bridge will improve life in the communities the bridge will serve.

A New Design

The new bridge consists of two main towers sitting on concrete pedestals, two main cables per tower saddles, 50 suspenders, and a steel grid decking walkway with mesh fencing and hand cable. A few weeks after mobilization of the project site, the design was modified from wood to steel decking.

“Our bridge was the pilot program,” Hoffman said. “This innovative design is faster and safer, and is a big step forward for B2P’s partnership with the Rwandan government and its commitment of building 355 footbridges over the next five years.”

“The community members were unsure about the bridge, since they could see through to the ground and river below them,” added Byron, who serves as director of the program. “But those worries faded once the bridge was inaugurated and folks went back and forth a few times. The build was seamless – we finished the bridge in five-and-a-half days!”

Using a different kind of decking meant the rebar suspenders needed to be bent prior to installation at specific points. While the change didn’t pose any construction challenges it did require a bit of a learning curve, since it was an aspect of a bridge build that B2P hadn’t dealt with previously.

“I didn’t quite know what to expect going into this build,” Byron said. “While I learned a lot about bridge construction, I also learned an incredible amount from the community members and Rwanda in general. As a country, they are still healing, but the capacity for forgiveness and the resiliency they demonstrate was powerful.”

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©2019 WSP USA

WSP volunteers (front row, left to right) Sarah Hoffman, Charlotte De Bettignies, Rudi Byron, (back row, l-r) Kevin Milligan and Derrick Rosenbach enjoyed the experience of a lifetime building a bridge for a Rwandan village.

Remarkable Community

Of the 12,500 community members, there are 1,200 children with schools on both sides of the bridge. Three months out of the year, the Mwogo River is too perilous to cross due to flooding.

When the river floods, access to resources—the market, healthcare and schools—are cut off. “Despite incredible progress in Rwanda over the last decade, barriers to critical resources still exist,” said Rosenbach, a senior planner at WSP. “The bridge has the potential to unlock economic opportunities and improve both wellness and education within the communities the bridge serves.”

“It’s a good feeling to be able to leave a lasting mark that the people will enjoy for many years,” added Milligan, a WSP engineer. “It was a thrill for them to meet new people and watch this project going on for a couple of weeks. Hopefully they will see that folks around the world and their own government want to help improve their quality of life and it will be an inspiration for younger people to participate in projects like this in the future.”

In May, a team of volunteers from WSP USA built a 206-foot-long suspension bridge for the residents of the Nyaruguru District of Rwanda.

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