Mission accomplished, July 5

Mission accomplished, July 5

July 22, 2014

It was Saturday, July 5th – our last day in La Conga. And the bridge was not finished. The hours we had to complete our mission were numbered, but our dedication was immeasurable. Earlier in the week we had heard that several other bridges in the area weren’t finished during the time their teams were onsite. The CH2M HILL B2P team resolved early on that not finishing would not be an option for us. Everyone was up and onsite by 6 a.m. ready to pour every ounce of sweat we had left into the final tasks.

All_Hands_on_DeckThe final two suspenders needed to be secured and then the final decking boards would be placed—allowing a dry crossing for the first time across the Rio Trinidad. But before the bridge could be inaugurated that afternoon and opened to the community, the fencing still had to be installed to ensure a safe crossing. The team anticipated this would take about three hours to unroll and secure, which called for all hands on deck to accomplish.

Meanwhile another group was doing QC on the decking to make sure we didn’t need to replace any boards where a gap may be too dangerous for bike tires or little feet. Another group was making their way down the decking to tighten each of the six bolts holding each of the 110 deck boards in place.

“There is absolutely nothing easy about building a bridge that will last forever, but once it’s built you know you have contributed to leaving a legacy,” said Robert. “We accomplished this in only 7 days where most other teams are onsite for 10 days.”

Growing_AudienceDuring the final hours, our audience grew by the minute with community members from La Conga and La Florida coming to see the action and eagerly awaiting their opportunity to cross the bridge for the first time.

At 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 5 the team removed the pull line with the safety harnesses and the bridge was complete just in time for the 1 p.m. inauguration ceremony.

And now it was time to celebrate! Green and yellow balloons along with a Panamanian flag dressed the La Conga entrance to the bridge. A sound system was brought in so that everyone could hear the remarks during the inauguration ceremony.

The La Conga teacher shared what this bridge will mean to the children who often were unable to attend school when the river was too high to cross.
The La Conga teacher shared what this bridge will mean to the children who often were unable to attend school when the river was too high to cross.


Community members, local bridge committee members, the La Conga primary teacher, Panama Canal Watershed officials, and local municipal leaders all offered remarks of gratitude to everyone who has touched this project over the past three months. The teacher spoke of the impact it will have on the education of the community and closed with a blessing for the bridge. Tomas was designated to speak on behalf of the CH2M HILL team and thanked the community for their hospitality and allowing us to play a small role in bettering their future. Jake spoke on behalf of Bridges to Prosperity and spoke to the theme of “transformers.”

Ribbon_CuttingFelicita, the “grandmother” of La Conga who was just days away from celebrating her 90th birthday, had the honor of cutting the neon green ribbon, marking the official opening of the bridge to the cheers of 150 attendees. After hearing her personal stories and learning how her son drowned crossing the Rio Trinidad, our team was deeply honored to play a role in giving her an early birthday gift: the gift of knowing that her children, grandchildren, and community will never be in danger again crossing the Rio Trinidad river. Her two daughters-in-law took her arms and led her across the bridge that she never thought she would see in her lifetime. As a suspension bridge, the structure bounces slightly so the first few steps were a bit tentative, but then an ear-to-ear smile quickly graced her face. She didn’t have the bridge to herself for long as a line of kids and other community members quickly queued behind her. For the next hour the bridge had kids running back and forth, excited to be able to get from one side to the other so quickly.Happy_Kids IMG_3935

Project manager Reece commented how the bridge location is a metaphor for the impact this project will have: “I think it is so cool how the sunlight hits the site, it runs straight down our bridge site.”

Meanwhile, our team was busy snapping final photographs with the people they had come to call family during that week—both the La Conga community and their fellow CH2M HILL and B2P teammates. A celebratory meal of beef and rice was enjoyed by all in Mary Louisa’s front yard.Final_TeamDSC00524

Our SUVs were waiting to whisk us back to Panama City so we quickly packed up our belongings, but not before we gave some items to the community including t-shirts, bags, sleeping pads, and pillows. Dirty and physically exhausted, yet energized by the emotional high of the week, we said our goodbyes and waved out the windows as we drove out of the jungle.

The 45-meter suspension bridge our team built will never grace the front pages of history books but its impact is life-saving and incredibly important to the 200 community members who will now have a safe, efficient way to reach school, health clinics, and commercial markets. The community of La Conga will benefit daily from this bridge, and every team member who played a small role in making this a reality has been changed as well by this experience—it stretched us outside our comfort zones, bridged new relationships, and will likely remain one of the most meaningful projects throughout our careers.



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July 2014


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  2. Gilda Mejia

    These are the stories that Newscasters should be spreading via the networks. It is definitely inspiring and motivates to do some type of good deed - large or small - in the world we live in. What a better world this would be. Thank you :-)

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