Good Cause: Bridges to Prosperity

I learned about Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) through a new acquaintance, Andrew Seelaus, Country Manager of B2P’s Rwanda Programme. Intrigued about the idea behind building footbridges in some of Rwanda’s most remote communities, I got the how and why of bridge building as a way to help people. You can connect with them on their Facebook page.

What’s so important about footbridges?

Being able to cross a river year round can make the difference in sitting exams to finish the school year, being able to sell your crops on market day, or getting your sick baby to the clinic. People often face a terrible choice trying to cross; some pay with their lives.

Access is the key word here. By eliminating barriers to accessing local facilities, footbridges enable development in other areas: food security, health outcomes, or education goals, for example. Projects working on these issues are useless if people can’t physically cross a river during the rainy season to get to them.

Tell us a bit about footbridges in Rwanda.

A friend of mine said that if Rwanda is the land of 1000 hills, then there must be at least 999 bridges that are needed. While I’m not sure the number is that high, it isn’t too far off.  In many rural areas, people don’t have money for cars or motorbikes and walking is the primary means of transport. Still, there are many rivers that become dangerous after every rain and people need a way to cross safely. A long-lasting footbridge can provide that safe link and allow for better lives.

How does Bridges to Prosperity fit into this picture?

Rwanda, like many places with large populations working the land in remote areas, is trying to meet its infrastructure needs. With such immense demand, a gap can develop between the large projects the government must focus on, and the needs at a community level. B2P works within that gap.

In addition to actual bridge building, B2P helps district engineers learn how to build inexpensive and robust footbridges, while also working with two Rwandan universities, KIST and IPRC Kigali-Kicukiro, to train the next generation of bridge builders.

How many bridges have you built so far in Rwanda?

We started building here in 2012 in collaboration with the Rotary Club of Kigali-Gasabo, and we will complete our fifth bridge before the second 2013 rainy season begins. We’ve also helped other organizations build two other bridges in Rwanda and will continue to do so whenever possible. Our ideal scenario is to build while training others so that more people have a way to get across impassable rivers.

Given this demand, how do you select where to build a bridge?

B2P works together with national agencies and local governments to choose sites. Bridge site selection is based on technical feasibility, community need, and local government willingness to collaborate on the project. While B2P funds the vast majority of costs, we ask the community to provide labor and local materials (sand, stone, etc.). District governments also can provide materials like timber or cement, help with transportation of those materials, and assistance with the paperwork necessary to build in their area.

Development work is rife with failed projects that involve muzungus coming into an area, building something then leaving. Does B2P work differently?

We are working to avoid that problem in three ways. First, and most importantly, B2P cultivates local ownership of all the projects through the formation of bridge committees that are comprised of local community leaders. The committee organizes labor during construction and monitors basic bridge maintenance after completion. Second, B2P is installing remote sensors on select bridges to monitor crossings in real time via a 3G data connection, which will be shared with the Rwandan government. Third, B2P staff or volunteer engineers visit each bridge site to conduct inspections every 2-3 years. Our goal is that by working closely with the Rwandan government at the district and cell levels, we increase the bridge building know-how in the places that most need it, i.e. outside Kigali.

What can people do to get involved?

Spread the word about the power of footbridges! Seriously, the more people who understand how crucial these structures are for the poorest parts of Rwanda, the more people will support footbridge building. Also, we would love to get connected with other organizations working in rural areas who may know of communities in need or who would like to learn how to build footbridges. Email me to learn more: andrewseelaus@bridgestoprosperity.org And of course, donations are always appreciated!

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.