August 12, 2016
Authored by Candice Hein, PE, a civil engineer in CH2M’s Denver office and a long-time volunteer with the nonprofit Bridges to Prosperity.
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” Nelson Mandela
Since I left Zambia in 2010 I couldn’t wait to get back there. I got that opportunity this June when my now husband (still a crazy word) and I visited for our honeymoon.
Not long after we got engaged, I spoke with Brandon, Director of Programs at the nonprofit Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) about a bridge in Zambia that needed repairs. Another NGO was in Zambia working on another project, and they got in touch with B2P to share what they saw. We decided this was a good chance to go take a look at all of the bridges built by B2P in the country, some of which I had worked on while I was there as a volunteer in 2010. So through the support of Bridges to Prosperity and the CH2M Foundation, my husband and I made this our honeymoon! While it isn’t very conventional, it was the most educational trip we have ever taken… and it was so rewarding for me to blend my past travels with my new partner-in-crime.
“People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs
We visited the bridge identified as in need of repairs, and it was a chaotic scene. There were hundreds of school kids dressed in their tan uniforms with their personality displayed in their shoes, hats, or headphones. There were women carrying vegetables, there were men wheeling carts, and there were young people lingering around looking for work. This bridge literally changed an entire community’s way of life, and this was a great reminder of why B2P’s work is truly invaluable. Here are some highlights of what we experienced in our time there, and why both my husband and I agree we want to continue to be a part of work like this throughout our lives.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
The fence had separated from the deck, likely due to the cables stretching. This resulted in a shaky bridge, with a gap in the fencing that opened to a 5-meter drop to the river. The improvements completed by the local labor team included taking off broken suspenders, bending rebar around the cables into new suspenders, replacing the fence one tie wire at a time, breaking up old concrete, and mixing new concrete for an approach ramp. We were there in the dry season and the river was low, and yet people were still trying to cross the bridge as we worked, reluctant to skip across the rocks below. After 3 days of hard work, we learned the reason they didn’t want to cross the rocks in the river: because there were crocodiles in the river. WHAT!? Have you ever had to worry about a crocodile on your way to work? I have to watch for people doing their makeup on the highway, but not crocodiles! After 7 days we left that site knowing that we had a small hand in ensuring safe, reliable access to schools and work for generations to come.
The success in repairing the Livingstone Bridge, followed by observing the impeccable condition of several other bridges in Zambia, left us feeling confident in what the bridge program in Zambia had achieved, 6 years later… That is, until we visited one last site, where we found a bridge with a collapsed tower on one side. While the walkway cables and decking continued to span the river, the bridge tower was in need of rebuild. This was absolutely devastating to me, as I had spent several days camping in this community, working alongside the locals to build this tower in 2010. I went through hundreds of scenarios of how I could fix this right then, or how we could come up with a plan to make it work, or how I could have done things differently, but none of those scenarios in my head made this bridge functional again. After I got through the emotional toll, I looked at this as an awesome opportunity to make full use of my engineering skills – to work with smart people to come up with a solution to an unexpected problem. This is why I love bridge work. There is no typical day on the job at these sites. There is no going to work, checking the to-do list, and going home. Instead it is coming up with a plan, adjusting the plan to the new circumstances, revising the latest plan based on the lack of materials available, and then smiling and laughing alongside your new friends at all the challenges you overcame that day! While we haven’t decided on a solution for the Kamunjoma footbridge repair, we are working with some really smart people at CH2M and B2P to come up with an innovative way to return safe, reliable access to this community. Keep your eyes glued to the CH2M Foundation blog for an update in the coming weeks!