Bridges to Prosperity, Rwanda 2022 - Part 1

WilkinsonEyre and Buro Happold have teamed up with Bridges to Prosperity to help construct a bridge across the Nyagakonyi River. Eight volunteers left on Friday, 29th of April to lend their engineering and design expertise to complete this life-changing project. Below is an update written by Julia Glynn-Smith of the first five days. 

Day One: Friday, 29th April

Flight - BH vs WE on Belgian Airways vs KLM. We lost - they left half an hour after us, arrived 20 mins before us and with ALL their baggage. WE missing our large bag full of PPE kit and tools. 

Day Two: Saturday, 30th April

I woke up to bird songs and football. We packed up and headed via many of Rwanda’s 1000 hills for the cultural centre and onwards to one of the main covered markets. It was five-metre high full of brightly coloured psychedelic fabrics and wonderful women keen to make you a wide range of ‘fashions’. Justin and Matt soon got their orders in! The afternoon took us to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which was an incredibly challenging and overwhelming experience. 

Day Three: Sunday, 1st May

We woke in our hotel to heavenly singing from the local church. Sunday is ‘non car day’ in Kigali and everyone is expected to take some exercise. This meant that the cars that were going to take us to our site accommodation couldn’t get through, which was lucky as it gave time for Justin’s fantastic bomber jacket/shorts combo to arrive hot from the market. Phew!  The cars arrived and we met our B2P liaison and set off for the supermarket and to change money. 

With our trolleys full of the recommended ‘sugary snacks’ to see us through the long site days,  we set off through a tropical rain storm. The roads quickly turned into ochre rivers and we slid our way for about 45 mins into the hilly outskirts of Kigali.  We reached our site accommodation for the fortnight,  located about 15 mins away from the bridge site. We soon began attracting attention from the locals. Our B2P liaison taught us a few Rwandan phrases, which soon had the locals laughing hysterically at our attempts. After a quick unpack and lunch (delicious) we headed to site. 

Thankfully it had stopped pouring and with more slipping and sliding we headed over a few hills to our site. The site for the trail bridge is a ravine about 20m wide by about 10m deep surrounded by banana groves and will serve a local population of about 4500, most of which seemed to have turned out for our arrival. With yellow billed kites swirling overhead we headed home to plan the next days work schedule. 

Day Four: Monday, 2nd May

Early rise at 5.30…nobody had slept.

We had breakfast of eggy bread and peanut butter and ginger tea. We arrived at site and met our 12 strong ‘community team members’ who had been working on the substructure (foundations and bridge abutments) since mid February. We started with a warm up and sharing our names and roles. Most have very little English other than the chief engineer and site foreman. 

Day 1 of site was to carry the 4 no. up-cycled braided steel cables across a ravine, attach them to the abutments with temporary clamps and set the ‘sag’. Taking our responsibility as H&S leads we soon had a human chain passing a practice rope between us down into the ravine and back up again. Process established we had the cables across the ravine by the time of our morning break at 10 am! The community members of the team were almost impressed. 

Day Five: Tuesday, 3rd May

Day 2 of Site 

Today’s programme was to re-tension the cables, tar the cables, backfill the anchor end with huge rocks, and carry MORE rocks across the ravine. Justin practiced carrying them balanced on his head Rwandan style which is pretty cool, but not in the H&S manual. Others were trained up in the art of bending rebar on a home made jig.  Main cables needed adjusting after their 24hr check but good progress was made. 

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The team is still collecting donations, click here to donate.