WSP Volunteers Join Bridges to Prosperity to Build an Impressive River Crossing in Rwanda
WSP employees worked with nonprofit organization to build a suspension trail bridge that provides thousands of rural families with a safe crossing over a dangerous waterway.
Thursday, October 26, 2023
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During two weeks of intense summer heat, a team of volunteers from WSP, Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) and local Rwandan communities built the record-breaking Kanyiramana 2 Suspension Trail Bridge across the Mwogo River.
This trail bridge is in the Huye District of southern Rwanda and now serves approximately 3,800 people in nearby communities. During the rainy season, the Mwogo River often floods making crossing a dangerous — sometimes deadly — experience, but this new bridge will now provide safe, year-round passage for children and adults to go to school, markets and the health center.
B2P is a nonprofit organization that’s built more than 450 bridges around the world to benefit isolated rural communities. But while most of these two-week bridge builds range in length between 60 to 100 meters, Kanyiramana 2, at 156 meters, was the organization’s most daunting suspension bridge yet.
“That in and of itself was the greatest challenge, because we had no more time to build this bridge than we would have if it was half its size or smaller,” said Juan Montenegro, WSP construction manager and the project manager.
Since 2010, WSP has collaborated with B2P on bridge design and construction on a total of 18 bridges worldwide.
For this latest build, the team’s success began with careful planning and coordination prior to departing for Rwanda during the preparation stage, followed by 1,200 work hours on site by the 11 WSP volunteers, all of whom brought their unique knowledge and expertise to the project.
“Everyone had a job, kept to the schedule and knew what they had to do going in every morning,” said Robert Nardi, WSP senior vice president and fundraising manager for the project.
One Team, One Goal
Days for the WSP team would start with breakfast around 6 a.m. before driving to the bridge site at 7 a.m. They would then join with the B2P crew and 30 to 40 members of the local community in a “warm-up circle,” as described by Elizabeth Tujak-Weiss, WSP structural engineer and communications manager for the project.
“We would do a chant and a little dance with the group and kind of get the energy going with everyone,” Tujak-Weiss said. “It was always a really nice way to start the morning, getting everyone’s spirits aligned and ready to be focused for the day.”
Construction activities would take place from 7:30 a.m. and last until sunset, with everyone ready for whatever that day may have in store.
“As it happens, nothing ever goes as planned, so everyone was kind of fluid in what they were doing versus what they were assigned, but we all understood the day’s activities,” Tujak-Weiss said. “Every person had a skillset to bring, and every single person stepped up when the time came because we all understood the importance of what we were doing there.”
According to Nardi, every team member also brought the same determination, commitment and dedication to this endeavor.
“Every morning, we spoke about ‘one team, one goal,’” Nardi said. “That was our mantra throughout. We did enjoy ourselves, without question, but the overriding philosophy of everyone on the team was that we had this enormous bridge to build, we were all going to play a role and we all needed to hold up our end.”
The Kanyiramana 2 Suspension Trail Bridge was built in the Huye District of southern Rwanda and now serves approximately 3,800 people in nearby communities.
The build took place over 13 days in August, from erecting the towers and installing the main cables, all the way to decking operations, fencing and other finishing details. The superstructure alone for this bridge amounted to 52,000 pounds, and that’s not including the concrete foundations.
“This was hard work, with long hours of dirty, hot and sweaty effort,” said Carlos Ramirez, WSP vice president and construction manager on the project. “But everybody rose to the occasion to do their part.”
On this project, for instance, there were the wind guy cables that stabilize the bridge laterally. These aren’t necessary for all suspension bridges but were vital for a project of this scale.
“On site, we had to brainstorm ideas because there were new challenges that arose during construction,” Ramirez said.
Daily meetings allowed the team to navigate any emerging difficulties, and with the assistance of B2P crew members and the men and women from the community on each build day, they were able to deliver the completed bridge safely and on schedule.
“It honestly couldn’t have gone better than it did,” Nardi said. On Aug. 18, a ceremonial ribbon cutting took place that attracted hundreds of community members to see the finished bridge and enjoy walking across it for the first time.
The WSP team from the U.S. was (front row, left to right) Brandon Yeh, Bob Nardi, Jessica Feenstra, Liz Tujak-Weiss, Autumn Pearson, Trang Mai, (back row, l-r) Juan Montenegro, Sentel Rodgers, Alex Francis, Carlos Ramirez and Chris Koury.
For the families in Rwanda’s Huye District, this bridge is an opportunity for their farms and small businesses to become more resilient throughout the region’s harsh rains. But for the men and women of WSP who were on the ground, it was an opportunity to realize their passions to improve people’s lives in real time.
“When you see these bridges, you see the huge, immediate impact they have on the community,” Montenegro said. “You know that the kids are able to cross and go to school without having to remove shoes and other clothing items to keep them dry, and all the women and men carrying 40 or 50 pounds of produce on their head as they walk the 5 to 10 miles to reach the market.”
Montenegro said that he won’t forget driving to the bridge site every day and seeing men, women and children coming to greet them with smiles on their faces. It’s a sight that makes him want to do the whole thing over again.
“Being able to help them, make life a little less challenging for them, it’s difficult to describe,” he said. “It’s very satisfying, but more importantly, it’s our responsibility to help each other out.”