Bridges to Prosperity, Rwanda 2022 - Part 2

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 a written update by Justin Frank of the second week. 

Day Six: Wednesday, 4th May

We thought that by day three the local kids would be bored of shouting “Mzungu” every time they see us, but they still chase the cars on the way to site.

Today was the day that our cables turned into a bridge. After the backbreaking work of tightening the bolts holding the cables in place, we were able to suspend the hangers created on the jig yesterday. The two sides used different approaches. The right abutment team added the decking working from outside in, using harnesses and working in the air. The left abutment team worked on land, connecting decking a few meters at a time before “launching” it into the centre of the bridge. In the end, they met in the middle with almost no time difference.

It was a hugely satisfying day and after a quick beer at the local, we played some kids in a game of (barefoot) football, avoiding the concrete post in the middle of the sloping field. (Chris and Justin’s side tallying a WEA win, with no assistance of either of them).

Day Seven: Thursday, 5th May

Seeing the decking spanning the ravine was a great wake up after the usual 7am arrival on site. After calculating and cutting the custom decking piece at the centre of the bridge, this was quickly installed and the order of the day was torquing all the bolts on the bridge hangers and decking. Julia got cracking on painting the abutments in the blue, yellow and green of the Rwanda flag.

In the evening there was a hunt for another bar, that instead just ended in heading home after Julia and Justin had accidentally walked past at least 3 families’ outhouses.

Day Eight: Friday, 6th May

With all the structural elements in place, the balustrade could start to be installed, whilst some abutment work was ongoing. Consisting of simple mesh fencing, Justin and Chris tried to work out a neater detail of fixing it back to itself. At lunchtime, we hosted a small barbecue on site for all the local helpers, who were incredibly touched that we would share our food with them. A lovely time was had by all. Except the goat. Only the morning was spent on site, being so far ahead of schedule that the team could head into the weekend a few hours early!

Day Eleven: Monday 9th May

Having spent the weekend on safari in luxury with real beds, it was a harsh realisation to return to cot-beds and sleeping bags on Sunday night, so some Monday-blues were in the air.

The bridge was also nearing completion and remaining tasks were tedious, unsatisfying and physically painful. Julia had to keep repainting where concrete make-up works were repeatedly splattered over her hard work, whilst Chris and Justin blistered their hands trying to install the balustrade. The detail turned out to be a lot more work than the proposed one, but it did look better (the life of an architect!). The engineers weren’t quite as bothered by the aesthetics and were cursing us a little!

At the end of the day to numb our hands a little we went back to the bar to wrap our hands around some (vaguely) cold beers. The party continued back to the accommodation, and the engineer’s decided that one bottle of whisky wasn’t enough, so more was sent for.

Day Twelve: Tuesday 10th May - Bridge Completes

Chris had to add working with hangovers to the morning safety briefing, but we were all buoyed knowing it was going to be the final day of the build. More work on the remaining Right Abutment, final touches to the balustrade and painting were the tasks of the day, and despite it being the hottest day so far we made great progress. Julia had the patience of an angel repainting things again, whilst Chris worked his fingers raw on the fencing and Justin joined a group of local women for a good natter of which he understood nothing. 

The bridge is finished!

Celebratory cocktails and steak were had at a distillery overlooking Kigali.