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Building gender balance—and a bridge—in Rwanda

April 5, 2017

By Ellen Sandberg

Ellen and teamAfter serving as executive director of the CH2M Foundation for 4 years, I was excited to go on my first trip with Bridges to Prosperity to build a 60-meter footbridge in Rwimvubu, Rwanda. Our team of 12 employees traveled from their workplaces in Arizona, Colorado, England, Georgia, Hawaii, Ohio, Qatar, Dubai, South Korea, and Poland to make this bridge a reality for the community living on both sides of the river. Although the foundation paid for the bridge materials and travel expenses for the team, the employees all volunteered their time. See the bridge-building process from start to finish.

I’m deeply honored that this partnership with Bridges to Prosperity aligns so closely with two of the foundation’s three key pillars: building sustainable communities and engaging our employees in skilled volunteerism. I came back with an overwhelming sense that the country of Rwanda, its people, its government, and its future are on a trajectory toward the fulfillment of human potential and sustained, positive development.

I witnessed a safe, clean capital city of Kigali, and not just because I was in a hotel but because plastic bags are banned, smoking is practically non-existent, and animals and livestock are contained and controlled. In the countryside, I experienced similar achievements, in addition to children in school and well-maintained and lit roadways. Of course, there will always be aspects to improve, as in any country. But to my delight, the Rwanda people seem to have emerged from a dark period in the 1990s with hope and resilience.

LunchOne anecdote that demonstrated a bright future for Rwanda was a statement made by the region’s vice mayor for the economy, Antoine Bisizi. As we celebrated the new bridge’s opening with hundreds of community members, Mr. Bisizi saw and met, possibly for the first time, the local bridge committee of eight men and women who will be responsible for maintaining the bridge into the next four decades. The bridge committee had already worked on the bridge tirelessly many months before our team arrived, and they also worked side by side our team for the two weeks we were there.

As Mr. Bisizi looked upon three of the eight bridge committee members who were women, he elbowed me with a big a smile and said, “gender balance!” Two words that are just as powerful in a developed country as they are in one that is emerging. I was so pleased that the message of equity and its benefits are becoming a reality in Rwanda through this bridge and many others.File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0

In 40 years, I can only imagine the kind of gender balance there will be if we keep building more critical access to schools and markets and hospitals.

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