2016 BE A BRIDGE Raises $CAD 51,300 – Thank you for your support!

Thank you to all that supported Bridging the Gap Africa’s 2016 BE A BRIDGE Fundraiser, together you raised $CAD 51,300!

The local community, in partnership with Bridging the Gap Africa, have broken ground at the bridge site and we are excited to let you know that construction of Kakenya’s Crossing is officially underway.

The community is very excited about their new piece of infrastructure! 

Breaking Ground for Kakenya's Crossing - "Low Flow Season"

Breaking Ground for Kakenya's Crossing - "Low Flow Season"

Kakenya's Crossing - Local Students

Kakenya's Crossing - Local Students

Footbridges Enable Education

It was April of this year when Bridging the Gap Africa was visiting a primary school in Central Pokot, a remote region in Kenya where a bridge had to be removed several years ago due to erosion of the river banks. The head school master explained to us that the day after the bridge was removed 230 students where immediately separated from their local primary school. We were told how some of the older primary students continued to talk to school by adding a detour consisting of a three (3) walk to get to a location upstream where the students could safely cross the river. There were also several teachers that lived on the ‘far side’ of the river that were required to walk this long detour to continue their role as educators for the children in their community. We are pleased to note that a bridge has now been reconstructed for this community in Central Pokot, but there are several other schools in rural Kenya that require footbridges to provide safe and reliable year-round access to education.

When Anna Lucas heard how a simple footbridge has a profound social impact by enabling education in rural Kenya she immediately wanted to help raise funds and awareness for this cause. Anna shares how educators at Sheppard Public School in Kitchener, Canada, care about education for all children.

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In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” As a group of educators that message resonates deeply with us and it is the impetus behind our river crossing to support Bridging the Gap Africa’s “Be a Bridge” fundraiser. We believe passionately that ALL children have a right to the basic education they need to become empowered adults who can support their families and help lift their communities out of poverty. 

It is a right that is easy for us in Canada to take for granted (although it is worth noting that it is not a right that many Indigenous communities in our country would take for granted). We have the privilege of receiving students at school each day who are safely delivered by school bus, by cars, or by walking along relatively safe streets. As educators, we have the luxury of safe passage to school in order to teach our students. It is hard for us to imagine living in a community where our students’ journey or an educator’s journey to school might put their lives at risk. Can you imagine the risk of animal attacks or drowning in order to access a basic right - the right to an education. 

While we obviously could not replicate the challenges and danger that many students and educators confront in their journeys to school, crossing the Grand River in Kitchener, Ontario, and then making the 6km trek to school was an important symbolic gesture for us.

Our goals were manyfold:

  • to put ourselves in the shoes of others (in a very diminished way as we knew this would be a safe crossing for us and one that was undertaken by choice, not necessity);
  • to raise money for and awareness of this important issue;
  • lastly, to model for our students the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Educators from Sheppard Public School crossing the Grand River before sunrise.

A river crossing with purpose: educators wanting to see education for ALL children.

So with these goals in our hearts, we met in the pre-dawn hours to begin our trek across the Grand River. It was necessary for us to meet before the sun had risen in order to reach school in time. With our home-made signs in hand, advertising Bridging the Gap Africa and the Kakenya Centre for Excellence, we joined hands as a sign of unity for this cause and stepped into the river. We were very lucky that in early October the water was still quite warm. We were also lucky that the fall crossing meant that the waters were at a low level. 

I once accompanied my son to this river in the spring in order to fly fish and we experienced firsthand how easily the strong current can overpower a child. Luckily, he had an adult on hand to support him when he was suddenly overpowered by the fast moving waters - we never made that mistake again! A child having to face a strong current to access school is quite a different situation to a child crossing the river for recreational fishing with the safe protection of a parent. Even with the lower water levels, we experienced a deceptively strong current in the middle of the river.  We were only at thigh high level yet the current, at one point, presented us with a challenge. We simply could not imagine a young child having to face this current as part of their journey to school. We simply could not imagine our own dear students having to experience this as part of their daily life.

As we emerged from the river on the other side we huddled in a circle to take a moment to reflect on the experience of children who face perils far, far greater than we had experienced or could imagine experiencing. With signs in hand, and chants of “education for all” and “build that bridge”, we embarked upon our 6km walk to school. We were inspired by all the honks from passing cars and we even received a donation en route!

Arriving at school at the end of their 6km walk.

We will now be using the experience of our river crossing to inspire our school community to engage in awareness raising and fundraising initiatives for Bridging the Gap Africa. We know they will embrace this cause with the same compassion and generosity that is characteristic of our amazing school community. We just can’t wait to get started! While we feel our river crossing and walk has made a worthwhile contribution to BtGA, the truth is, we received far more by being part of this endeavor that we can ever give. We were all so moved and inspired by this experience and it has created a deep bond between us “river walkers” that enriches both our school life and our personal life. We thank BtGA for the the privilege of participating in this incredible initiative.

To watch news coverage of our Educators’ Walk follow this link http://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=967434 

To sponsor us, please select “Educators’ Walk” in the “Donate” link and help us keep working towards that goal of education for all! Thank you!

Anna Lucas, Teacher at Sheppard Public School, Kitchener, Canada

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Will you BE A BRIDGE today by making a donation to promotes education for children in Kenya?

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Footbridges Provide Access to Work and Schools

In rural Kenya, many people find themselves making difficult decisions when it comes to accessing places of education and employment: Do we risk walking through a river to get our children to school and ourselves to work? Or do we keep our children at home (and out of school) during the rainy seasons because the river is high and dangerous to cross? 

At Bridging the Gap Africa, we believe that people should not be faced with these questions.  And when we enable these communities to build footbridges across these dangerous rivers we reduce the number of people that have to make these difficult decisions. 

To raise awareness for this weeks’ social impact, Dan and Sophie completed a walk through the Grand River in Kitchener, Canada.

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The concern that there were school children wading through rivers in Africa was a long topic of discussion at our supper table earlier this year. As the discussion grew, and the understanding of the variability of a river and predators lurking for prey was understood; the need to support Bridging the Gap Africa became a cause for our support.

I work as a project manager for MMM/WSP and Sophie, my daughter, is in Grade 8 in Kitchener Ontario. We reside in a community that grew by the Grand River, a river with a watershed of approximately 6,800 square kilometers. Our thought was to replicate a normal day to work and school with a river crossing. We imagined that if we had to cross the river each day, we would probably have a place to cross and would be prepared to cross. We would be wary of the dangers of the river and the predators living nearby. However, the speed, depth of the river and the unpredictability of the local predators would be our daily concern.

To help us understand how this could impact us, we decided that we would not spend much time preparing for our crossing and that we would wear what we would normally wear for our school and work days. Our challenge, while not the same, would help us understand the challenges of our counterparts in Africa.

Dan reflecting on what life would be like if this was part of their daily routine.

Dan reflecting on what life would be like if this was part of their daily routine.

Sophie stepping out into the Grand River.

At our crossing location, the river is variable depth and speed with several small islands and shallow areas. We made four attempts to cross the river at different locations. The first three attempts would have put the water level high enough such that Sophie would have been swept downstream. I was beginning to think that we would not be able to cross but Sophie found some shallower water upstream that was moving more quickly at reduced depths. What I thought would be a 10 minute crossing actually took us about 30 minutes.

Sophie in the Grand River during her walk.

We were both wet and dirty from the grasses and the mud. Without a change of clothes we would have been very uncomfortable participating at school or at work. If the river had been flowing slightly higher, we would have probably abandoned the crossing. We wondered how many days of school are missed because of the unpredictability of rivers in Africa. We wondered how they managed to cross and participate in the normal activities of work and school after crossing the river. Do they have a change of clothes?  How do they manage to carry their homework? What if they slip into the river; is there someone there to save them?

Sophie and her "after-math."

In North America we take bridges for granted without thought that they may not be there tomorrow. The resources required for these foot bridges is small and yet the benefits are enormous. Please support Bridging the Gap Africa as a simple foot bridge provides a dependable safe crossing and permits communities to grow through education and commerce.

-Dan and Sophie

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Footbridges Create Economic Opportunity

It was November of 2015, and a local community on the Nzoia River in Western Kenya was mid-way through construction for their new footbridge. While spending time on-site we got to know Jaqueline, a local business women that operates a mobile food service. I guess you could compare her business to the ‘food trucks’ that service construction sites and other public venues in North America.

When we asked her what the new bridge would mean to her she replied with excitement as the new access to the ‘other side’ of the river will allow her to expand her business and easily increase the coverage area for her mobile food service. Jaqueline’s story is one of many examples where entrepreneurs and small business owners benefit from increased economic opportunity when a new footbridge is built.

Jaqueline, owner of a mobile food service business in Western Kenya.

Jaqueline, owner of a mobile food service business in Western Kenya.

To raise awareness for this weeks’ social impact employees from Mammoet Canada completed a river walk to see what their lives may look like if they did not have bridges to cross the rivers near their office.

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When thinking about our plans to participate in this fundraiser, I racked my brain to consider how I can relate my day-to-day life to someone living on the other side of the world, under entirely different circumstances. I came to the conclusion that I can’t. It’s just too different. I work in Communications and Marketing; I spend my days slumped over a computer working on key messages, marketing materials, and spinning bad news into good. How could I possibly relate this to someone seeking economic opportunity in rural Kenya?

Then Dan Thorne and I had a chat. Dan runs the Business Development department for our company, and spends a ton of time on the road meeting prospective clients – creating economic opportunity. And there we had our walk: Dan and I were going to simulate visiting a client to fulfill our walk theme.

When Dan and I mentioned to our colleagues our intentions, a number of them jumped at the opportunity to participate. The more the merrier! We even had a couple junior walkers; our colleague Tanya brought her children Romeo and Sylas to learn an important lesson about daily life in other parts of the world.

“Happy group ready to walk” From left: Erica Stolp, Kim Robichaud, Katie Skinner, Tanya Almeida and son Romeo, Rick Crawford and Dan Thorne

We met on a Friday afternoon at the Grand River in Kitchener, Canada. Luckily for us, it hadn’t rained recently so we anticipated a trouble-free crossing.

Our yard supervisor Rick Crawford brought his work boots as he would to work every day. Dan had his briefcase; I had the shiny work camera that I use to capture exciting moments for marketing materials.

Off we went! The first part of the trip was across a shallow, rocky section, which gave us a chance to get used to the water. It turned out to be a particularly slippery section, causing one or two moments of alarm, but all in all, we got to a dry section in the middle just fine. Pausing for a (photo) break, we assessed the next section, which was much deeper and had a significantly stronger current.

Teamwork helped through the deeper points

The return trip – post "meeting"

Our de facto guide and part time mountain man Dan Thorne led our group through the deeper sections of the river. Some sections caught us off guard with the depth and the strength of the current. In the end, the group held hands to support each other in getting across the deeper sections. Once across, the team surveyed their progress and acknowledged that as enjoyable as this was on a nice warm summer’s afternoon, it would be significantly less fun in the winter months, just before the water froze.

The aftermath.

All in all, though we shared some laughter, we all acknowledged how frustrating and difficult it would be to endure this every time we need to get to a meeting, to get to work, or to a trade show when we carry large installations and images. It was a wonderful lesson in humility, and a reminder to us all to appreciate the things we take for granted. It is my pleasure and honor to support a cause as valuable as Bridging the Gap Africa.

- Katie Skinner, Communications Manager, Mammoet

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Footbridges Promote a Higher Standard of Living for Seniors

It was the opening day for a new footbridge in West Pokot, Kenya, and part way through the celebration some of the elderly members of the community came to cross the bridge to join the ceremony. The conversation quickly shifted to the significance of these seniors crossing the bridge, without this bridge these seniors would likely live out the remainder of their lives without crossing this river. To understand the importance of this you need to realize that these seniors live on the ‘far side’ of the river where there is not a single facility that provides medical care. It was a heart-tugging moment seeing those seniors cross the bridge on that opening day because I knew that this bridge means that they will now have access to medical care that will improve their quality of life. 

To raise awareness for this weeks’ social impact Fred and Sue Bowser and Phil Kinnie share about their adventure with their peers in Canada’s west coast British Columbia.

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Our son has found a passion in building footbridges in Africa. His stories of the impact that these bridges have has more than caught our attention. So when he challenged us to consider doing a river crossing for the BE A BRIDGE Fundraiser we were more than willing to get on board. We were somewhat taken aback that our challenge was going to be paired with the topic of “How not having a bridge affects seniors.” 

One of the ‘planning sessions’ with Tris & Sunny White, Phil & Sue Kinnie, and Fred & Sue Bowser

One of the ‘planning sessions’ with Tris & Sunny White, Phil & Sue Kinnie, and Fred & Sue Bowser

We recruited our close (and more senior) friends, Tris & Sunny White and Phil & Sue Kinnie, to help plan and participate in the crossing. Our planning sessions were usually around a dinner table enjoying a few cold refreshments. Jokes were plentiful as we contemplated our task at hand. It was during these times of laughter that we often paused to consider how daunting it must be for the elderly to be totally overwhelmed if they needed to cross a river without a bridge for medical help, or to purchase their groceries for the week. Some days it is hard enough for us old folks to crawl out of bed let alone to wade across a flooding river. We know we didn’t even begin to truly appreciate the real impact that walking across a river would have if it was part of our everyday existence. What we do know is that our level of awareness was greatly heightened along with our appreciation of bridges.

- Fred and Sue Bowser, Surrey, Canada

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So after several ‘planning’ dinners, the three couples decided that they would assume a scenario where an earthquake had knocked out their local bridges and they needed to use their bicycles to get medical supplies from a local hospital. Phil Kinnie reflects on the river crossing experience:

Fred and Tris… choosing their steps carefully in the tall grass

Fred and Tris… choosing their steps carefully in the tall grass

Tris White carrying his bicycle through the river

Tris White carrying his bicycle through the river

Phil, Tris, and Fred arriving at Langley Memorial Hospital

Phil, Tris, and Fred arriving at Langley Memorial Hospital

Arriving at the river, we roused a homeless man sleeping in the long grasses on the bank. He mumbled, “They dump sewage in that river. Don’t wanna go across there.” I’m sure I’m not hearing that right. Anyway, too late. This is our planned route, and we will forge – or wade – ahead. Believing the worst part will be getting the bicycles across the stream, this is easily superseded by thoughts of sinking deep in a soft unmentionable substance and going waist deep through a weedy, brown liquid. Ever the pusillanimous one, I let Fred and Tris go first to get a better understanding of where to put my feet when my turn came. Fred got the worst of it, falling over and nearly submerging under the chocolate water. Then the sludge slipped over my feet and ankles as with circumspection I lowered myself into this morass and focussed my attention on anything else I could bring to mind. We could just cycle across the bridge overhead but in an effort to emulate and understand what many people in Africa endure in order to get to vital destinations, we eschewed the link and made our way to our destination through this horror, re-enacting what countless people do every day due to a lack of what we, without thought, take for granted – bridges. In their case it’s far worse than dirty suffusion. Alligators and other denizens of the deep, strong currents, dangerous rapids and countless other life threatening dangers lurk in those waters, awaiting people trying to do what we do without a thought.

– Phil Kinnie, Surrey, Canada

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Footbridges Improve Community Access to Health Care

It was the day of the long awaited opening ceremony for a new footbridge in West Pokot, Kenya, and people were coming from all over the region to celebrate the new bridge. While the goat was being prepared we had the opportunity to speak with the local Chief as he explained several social benefits that would be provided by the new bridge. 

One specific social benefit stood out to us that day as the Chief explained how there is a local traveling medical team that provides much needed health care to the ‘far side’ of the river. In the dry months there was a shallow section of the river where the medical team was able to walk through to access the communities on the far side; however, the Chief went on to say that in the rainy months the medical team was not able to cross the river due to the high flows and strong currents. Now the rainy season in this area also corresponds to a time of year in which there is an increase in the number of people that contract malaria. Malaria is typically treatable with access to health care, but without access to health care malaria can easily be fatal. That day the Chief explained that the community was incredibly grateful that their new bridge would enable full, year round, access to medical care.

Tim Windsor and Plinio Morita have completed river crossings to help raise awareness for this weeks’ social impact.

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Over the past 13 years, I have spent much of my time creating processes and tools to increase access to same-day health care in the Niagara Region in Ontario, Canada. I have to admit, that none of my planning and strategy sessions included mapping out the local river system and making sure our patients could safely cross them to get to our Clinics. My world, is a “first world”, a driving world - not a walking world.

Here I go ... surveying the river and summoning up the courage to enter into the “Walking World” – Tim Windsor

Here I go ... surveying the river and summoning up the courage to enter into the “Walking World” – Tim Windsor

Recently, on a sunny Friday afternoon I parked my car, opened my door, and stepped into the “walking world”, into the … “I must cross a river because I need to get to a Medical Clinic kind of world.” As I stood on the bank of the Welland River in Niagara Falls, I recognized that I had no idea what was ahead of me or how entering into this wet, shadowy, and much more worrisome world would affect me.

Right now, in the safety and comfort of your office, your home, or your favorite local coffee shop you can walk into this world with me. Just watch the video of my river crossing and allow this firsthand, GoPro Head Cam experience to connect your heart to the plight of thousands of people for whom this experience is an everyday reality. 

BE A BRIDGE Walking World Fundraiser River Crossing - i360 PCN BTGA from Fervesco on Vimeo.

Now that we have crossed this river together, what are you thinking?
What are you feeling?

Here are my lasting impressions:

First, you don’t get to choose your river, it choses you. I wanted to cross a knee deep, walkable river but I couldn’t find any in my local area. So, I sucked it up and said, “if I was born in Kenya ‘my river’ would be the river in my community”. If it’s a barrier between me and the health care I need for myself or my family, I am going in and across it.”

Second, if I had to battle a hippo or crocodile in that river and not just fight my own fears and fatigue, I would not be typing this blog today.

And lastly, although this experience was for a great cause and as real as I want it to get, quite honestly, I never want to live in a place where I “have to” do this to get health care. My world, is a “first world”, a driving world - not a walking world, and I appreciate that more today than I did before I entered into the wet, shadowy, and much more worrisome world called the Welland River.

Tim Windsor, Director of Clinical Services

Primary Care Niagara

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The World Health Organization Constitution enshrines “…the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental right of every human being.” Providing healthcare to remote communities in Africa and ensuring that their care is up to the standard of every other community in the region should be the goal.   

However, how do you provide such level of care when communities and their health care providers are separated by a river? Strong currents, wild animals, and the simple fact that medication supplies can get wet are just a few of the numerous barriers that will limit the delivery of care. 

From a patient's perspective, imagine yourself coming back from work and not feeling well. You decide that it is time for a visit to the local health center. However, you feel pretty dizzy and you are not able to walk there by yourself. A family member decides to help you along the way. However, as you are walking towards the health center, you realize the two of you will not be able to cross the river due to your debilitated condition as your company will not be able to drag you through the currents… 

Now, let’s look at the other side of healthcare delivery. 

You were not able to reach the health center, so they send a healthcare provider to help you across the river. The nurse coming to your aid now has to cross that same river, but carrying a supply bag with her that contains sensitive electronic equipment, sterile medical supplies, and dry medications. Definitely not an easy task.   

We definitely take bridges for granted. Let's help these remote communities build bridges to increase their access to health care.

We definitely take bridges for granted. Let's help these remote communities build bridges to increase their access to health care.

Crossing the river was eye-opening and helped me realize how lucky we are to have bridges around us.

Having worked in healthcare for several years, I have been exposed to several models of community care and home care, where care teams deliver basic care to remote communities either to the patients’ home or in community health centers. In order to gain appreciation to the amazing work being delivered by these healthcare professionals, I had to experience the challenge of trying to reach health centers without the benefit of a bridge.

Therefore, supporting the Bridging the Gap Africa BE A BRIDGE Fundraiser, I challenged myself to access the Grand River Freeport Campus in Kitchener, Canada, without using any bridges. I live and work on one side of the Grand River, but the new health center lies on the other margin of the river.  

I wonder if I would be able to cross this river with a debilitated family member.

Getting across the river was not a big challenge per se, but it helped me visualize and understand the difficulties of trying to deliver (or access) healthcare in the absence of bridges. I was crossing the river by myself, but if I had to carry a family member or a large bag of supplies, this relatively simple task could have become a disaster.  

Finally at the Grand River Freeport site.
Wet, but alive.

We normally take the benefits of living in a developed country for granted, but let’s not forget without basic infrastructure such as bridges, accessing and delivering healthcare would be extremely challenging. Let’s acknowledge the volunteers and workers that deliver care in Africa even in such limited conditions, and at the same time, let’s donate to the BE A BRIDGE Fundraiser so that Bridging the Gap Africa can help these remote communities build bridges to increase their access to health care.  

 

Plinio Pelegrini Morita, PhD PEng

Assistant Professor

J.W. Graham Information Technology Emerging Leader Chair in Applied Health Informatics

School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo

 

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Footbridges Save Lives By Preventing Drownings

During a recent bridge opening ceremony representatives of Bridging the Gap Africa were connecting with the local community and celebrating their accomplishment in completing a new footbridge.  There were several speeches given that day, one of which was from a widow who had lost her husband due to a drowning incident several years ago when he attempted to cross the river at this site.  It is common for us to hear these stories of loss and we consider it a great privilege to be an organization that enables communities to build bridges that save lives by preventing drownings.

This week we have blogs from Kim LeBrun and Matthew Bowser.

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Be a Bridge – outwardly it sounds like such a simple idea. Like “be kind” or “be happy.” However, when ruminated on, its true meaning is so much more. Now, try to bring those thoughts, ideas, and passions down to the level of understanding of a 6 year old! But why can’t it be that simple.  BE A BRIDGE. BRIDGE THE GAP.

As a fisheries ecologist at MMM/WSP, I spend a lot of time trying to mitigate the impacts that bridge construction has on the aquatic environments. But very little of my time is spent thinking about the social impacts of what a new bridge might mean to a community. In southern Ontario it seems like the consensus is that we do not need more highways/roadways/bridges, we need more natural environment. Therefore, I took on the challenge of participating in this wonderful fundraiser to not only raise money and awareness for a great cause, but to turn my thinking around on what a bridge could mean to communities that have no other way of staying connected. And as our children are the next generation of engineers/ecologists/conservation biologsts/great thinkers, I brought my 6 year old along with me on this great endeaver.

My daughter, Lyla, and I preparing to cross the Speed River.

While fundraising for this cause, I plastered laminated posters all over the mail boxes in our community. My 6-year old held the posters and helped with the taping. While we walked our community I tried to explain to my daughter why we were raising money and what it would mean to the community of young girls who would be able to attend school if a bridge were built. I pointed out to her the many things she would miss out on if bridges were not a part of our society (no visit to grandma’s because the river we cross is too deep and wide). Then I tried to get her to understand that in some areas of the world, there are large rivers that have to be crossed by people who cannot swim, in waters with dangerous animals, and high flows that could sweep them away. Her response – “Let’s get these posters put up so that everyone can donate money so that you can build a bridge for those girls wanting to go to school mommy.” 

At the dinner table we would talk about how much money had been raised and planned our watercourse crossing.  She was so excited to be a part of this cause and to raise money to help those “little girls.” Our walk was a short 2 km hike through some natural meadow and forest areas along the Speed River that included two crossings of the Speed River. I chose this path as I have to cross two rather large portions of the Speed River on my way to and from work every day. As you can see, the water is deep in sections, and the large substrate required some careful foot placement with a 6-year old on my back.

1st of two crossings of the Speed River. Although most of the way was shallow enough for Lyla to walk, there was one deep spot where she had to ride on my back.

2nd of the two crossings of the Speed River. Although shallower at this crossing, the flows were much faster, hence Lyla riding on my back.

As I carried my daughter on my back I explained to her the dangers of the water we were crossing for her not being able to swim, and that most people in the area where the bridge was to be built also could not swim, so the bridge would be their only way of getting back and forth to school or to medical aid if it was required.

When we completed the second crossing and climbed the bank my daughter exclaimed “okay mommy now go to work and build that bridge because I do not want those other girls to have to get wet or have something bad happen to them because they do not have a bridge to use.” 

Why can’t it be that simple?   Be a Bridge!

Kim LeBrun, Ecologist at MMM Group

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The office I work at is located 5 kilometers from my house and is directly on the banks of the Grand River in Kitchener, Canada. This distance did not make for an incredibly challenging walk if it was not for two crossings of the Grand River. Keeping with the theme of this fundraiser, I completed these river crossings on foot, without a bridge, and without a boat. When I arrived at the river for my first crossing it occurred to me that I had paid no attention to the fact that it had rained significantly in the days leading up to my walk and the river was much higher than what I had planned for. What was meant to be a relatively simple crossing with ankle deep water turned out to be a waist deep venture through a quick moving section of the river. In an appropriate manor, Tom Vogel (my photographer) cautioned me about the crossing due to the water level and asked if I should choose another location or pick a different date. But based on my familiarity with this stretch of the river I knew that the water levels would make for a challenging crossing but would not put me in danger. While standing at the river bank I had a moment to reflect and think of many people I have met throughout rural Kenya and their stories; when a mother has a sick child and needs to get to a clinic on the other side of a river they do not have the luxury of delaying their crossing because water levels are too high.  

Matthew stepping into the Grand River.

I proceed to cross the river and while the current is strong I am able to get a solid footing on the rocky river bottom and make it to the opposite bank where I climbed up the slippery slope, and head for the ‘trail’ that I had diligently identified in advance using Google Earth. Crossing rivers by foot is not part of my daily routine, so when I planned this route I was not overly familiar with the ‘far side of the river.’ I thought I had done my homework but apparently the ‘trail’ that I identified was nothing more than thick wet bush.   

Matthew in the Grand River during his walk.

Now I knew that the second crossing would be a little deeper than the first and I also knew that there are large boulders and other obstacles in this section of the river. Given the recent rain the river was turbid and seeing my foot placement was not possible. Thankfully the water was no more than waist deep and I was able to navigate a route that brought me back to ‘my side of the river.’ 

The final stretch, with MMM's office in the background.

To my surprise, walking through the Grand River to get to work was an incredibly rewarding experience. It was not a pleasant way to start my day and I am very thankful that walking through rivers is not required as part of my daily routine, but the experience provided me with a stronger appreciation for something that is extremely easy to take for granted; bridges.

Matthew Bowser, Bridge Engineer at MMM Group

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Will you BE A BRIDGE and make a donation today to fund a new footbridge in Kenya?


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Footbridges Increase Access to Markets

Several years ago Bridging the Gap Africa was surveying a site for a new bridge when a farmer from the ‘far side’ of the river shared his enthusiasm with us about the economic opportunity that the new bridge would bring. He explained how his farm was producing an excellent yield. When we congratulated him on his success he responded immediately saying his new yield was ‘not a success.' He went on to explain how he had no means of distribution for his crop which meant that his excess yield was essentially going to compost. The farmer then explained how the new bridge will provide access to a weekly market on the other side of the river that will enable him to sell his crop and increase his household income. 

Bob Stofko and Danie McAren share their experience from the walks they completed to raise awareness for this week’s social impact.

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On August 10, 2016, four members of my family had the pleasure of completing a “river walk” in support of BE A BRIDGE and to help raise awareness for this tremendous cause. I, my wife Bev, and 2 of our children, Mike and Krista, walked to Fortino’s grocery store in Oakville, Canada, to buy some groceries, which included a crossing of the 16 Mile Creek. We picked a rather hot day as it was over 40 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit) with the humidity. It was a relatively short walk (2km round trip) with a steep climb out of 16 Mile Creek Valley.

Bob, Bev, and Krista Stofko crossing 16 Mile Creek

Bob, Bev, and Krista Stofko crossing 16 Mile Creek

Bob in 16 Mile Creek with groceries in hand

Bob in 16 Mile Creek with groceries in hand

The creek was relatively shallow, therefore the crossing was relatively safe and easy. However, there are times of the year when there is significant flow in this creek, making it dangerous to cross by foot. If this was our only way to get to the grocery store, we would certainly have to avoid high-flow conditions. 

Interestingly, when we were thinking about what to buy, we decided that, since it was so hot, that we should not carry anything perishable. We had the luxury of that choice – others don’t. 

Completing this walk certainly made us think about how we take something as simple as good access to a grocery store for granted. We know that there are people in places such as Kenya that risk their lives just to go to the market. Bridging the Gap Africa builds much needed footbridges in Kenya that provide this safe access. 

Bob Stofko, Bridge Engineer at MMM Group

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I am a small-scale organic farmer and student in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. I am blessed with a strong local market for my crops, and while our market place is only 10 minutes from my home and farm (by car), I do encounter waterways that must be crossed to get there. Where the Eramosa river has gentle rocky banks it makes a wonderful place to cool off in the heat of the summer, but where the river widens nearer the city, it can have a depth above my short 5’4” stature. I chose to cross where the main footpath from my home leads towards the farmers’ market. I carried with me my friendliest hen, and a typical array of farm goods.

Danie with her friendliest Hen
Photo by Brett Forsyth Photography

Danie with produce in hand
Photo by Brett Forsyth Photography

At first step, I quickly realized I would lose sight of the bottom as my searching feet stirred the silt. My sandals squelched deep into the mud, sucking my legs down to the mid-calf. Releasing each foot from the bottom required some force, and more than once I nearly lost my balance. I continually had to quickly fumble through the large rocks and sunken trees to find footing. I was lucky that the river at this point has little current. Had I been at some of the other points on the river I explored that morning, where the water is channeled into narrower forceful falls, I surely would have lost all my goods. For hard working and generally cash strapped/food insecure farmers and their families, a loss such as this would be an absolute tragedy. My arms burned from the weight of my basket and from holding my hen above the water. There was nowhere to stop and adjust my hold, so all I could do was continue to squeeze my fingers tight and hope they wouldn’t give in or slip. 

Danie's Crossing of the Eramosa River Photo by Brett Forsyth Photography

Danie's Crossing of the Eramosa River
Photo by Brett Forsyth Photography

When we were across. I sat and fed my hen beet greens for her good behavior, and contemplated if I would have the will to continue farming if this was my daily/weekly reality. I would in reality need far more than one basket, so what does one do? Build a raft? Make several crossings a day? It has been a hard enough farming season in Ontario this year with the drought.  Additionally, facing this crossing might have me thinking strongly about other employment. Not crossing would mean more than no income; it would also mean no chance to buy what foods I couldn’t provide for my family from the farm. As a woman, and mother, like the majority of us small farmers are across the globe, I would likely have my young children in tow making this a distressing trip each time.

If you are able, please join us and BE A BRIDGE. Providing farmers with safe and convenient market access not only supports local and sustainable food sources, it ensures the continued livelihood of rural communities and villages. I believe that building bridges is an imperative part of making this happen. 

Danie McAren, Market Gardener


 

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Footbridges Save Lives by Preventing Animal Attacks

In Sub-Saharan Africa, footbridges save lives [literally] by preventing animal attacks. In Tanzania alone, nearly 100 people die each year due to hippo attacks. At Bridging the Gap Africa we have heard several stories from communities in need of bridges where loved ones have been lost due to hippo and crocodile attacks. We believe that communities should not have to put themselves at risk in order to cross a river to gain access to basic everyday needs like education, health care and commerce.

To raise awareness for this week’s social impact, Keith Holmes reflects on his experience living and working as a bridge engineer in Ethiopia and shares his recent account of a hike completed by MMM’s Vancouver Bridge group in support of our BE A BRIDGE fundraiser:

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As a Canadian engineer who once lived in Ethiopia and helped build bridges, supporting Bridging the Gap Africa feels like a good fit. For two years, I lived in Awassa, a small town by a lake in Ethiopia’s Southern Region. I worked alongside Ethiopian engineers, building bridges to connect communities and foster development. On weekends, my wife and I would explore past the town limits, sometimes across a makeshift footbridge over the Tiqur Wuha (“Black Water”) River. 

Eventually that old bridge failed, and we resorted to simply wading across the river on foot. We were fortunate in that the water was shallow and the hippos in Lake Awassa didn’t travel up the river. We were told there were no crocodiles. My biggest concern was fresh water parasites, an unpleasant but treatable condition, at least for a “ferenji” (foreigner) with some money.  

My wife Lori is leading the way across the Tiqur Wuha River, followed by close friends.

My wife Lori is leading the way across the Tiqur Wuha River, followed by close friends.

It is now 12 years later, and we are living in Vancouver. To be a bridge engineer in Canada has both benefits and challenges. But the memory of bridge work back in Africa still lingers. That work offered a profound satisfaction, probably because it appealed to more basic human needs. It meant helping a kid get to school safely. Or consider going to school at all.

So sign me up BtGA! This summer’s goal was to raise money to build a footbridge to a school for girls in Kenya. We planned a 10 km fundraiser hike that would pass through forests and creeks and eventually through the Lynn River. The river crossing was an essential part because it tied to a larger theme on the importance of footbridges. Of course, our river crossing couldn't actually be dangerous since this was a fundraiser and we wanted people to sign up!

So we planned a river crossing that was shallow and presented no risk of meeting a hippo or crocodile or parasite. At least the river was cold. Not dangerously cold of course. But cold enough to add to our “challenge”.

Sharon Hung crossing the Lynn River in North Vancouver.

Sharon Hung crossing the Lynn River in North Vancouver.

Keith Holmes and Reid Coughlin braving the cold mountain water.

Keith Holmes and Reid Coughlin braving the cold mountain water.

Fourteen of us gathered on a fine Saturday morning in early August. The group was made up of bridge engineers and technologists and their partners and kids. We showed up for good, honourable reasons. And we raised some money because people respected those good, honourable reasons. Our hike was nowhere near as hard and dangerous as what many people live with every day in Africa. But if all goes well, our hike will help make things a little less hard and dangerous for hundreds of girls in Kenya. 

The MMM Vancouver bridge group during their hike for BE A BRIDGE.

The MMM Vancouver bridge group during their hike for BE A BRIDGE.

Thank you to all who have donated in support of the Vancouver Hike!


Choose a link below to support:
BE A BRIDGE. A Walking World Fundraiser

 

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Update from Burleigh Law (Technical Advisory Committee Member)

Ahh Africa, wonderful and beautiful Africa! It was so great to return to Kenya this past summer after having been gone for 25 years. You see, I was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire at the time) and attended high school at Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe, Kenya from 1986 to 1990. Since then, life in America has been a whirlwind of college and getting two degrees, meeting and marrying the love of my life, building a career as a structural engineer designing bridges, having and raising four wonderful and amazing kids, and yet still knowing my heart was in Africa and why I became an engineer.  

In 2013, that ache and desire to serve in Africa was still there and even more prominent. I always thought doctors or dentist had the perfect career for helping those less fortunate and never thought I could find a way to use my knowledge, experience, and skills as a bridge engineer, but all that was about to change.

I came across a story about an organization called Bridging the Gap Africa (BtGA), a non-profit building footbridges in rural parts of Kenya, so I researched the organization and couldn’t believe my eyes. Harmon Parker, the same Harmon Parker who had ventured to the heart of the Congo in 1985 to build my family’s home using his mason skills, is the founder and director of BtGA. I knew this was my opportunity and where I could help, so I immediately reached out to Harmon and sure enough they needed help and would love to have me on board for a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) currently being formed. Not only could I bring knowledge about bridge engineering, but also about living in and loving Africa and its people and culture.

After a year and a half of serving on the TAC I would continue to tell Harmon “I’ve got to find a way to come and help you build a bridge.” Sure enough, that dream became a reality at the beginning of 2015. My wife, Holly, and I purchased airline tickets, got our passports and vaccines, and began to make plans with Harmon and his wife, Teri. We would leave on June 12 and be in Kenya for 2 ½ weeks. Harmon had perfectly planned a bridge build near Kitale, in the northwest part of Kenya, and I would help complete the Mbururu bridge over the Nzoia River and be there for the opening celebration with the local communities. An entire bridge build can take 6 weeks or more, so the BtGA crew needed to go ahead and construct the cable anchors and towers.

Once Holly and I arrived in Nairobi it was like I had never left. Sure, some things had changed in Nairobi, but it still had the same sights, sounds, and smells that I remembered from so many years ago. Harmon and I flew out 2 days later, landed in Kitale, checked in to our hotel, changed, and immediately went to the bridge site to begin work. The initial plan had been for me to help with getting the cables across the bridge, setting sag, and then installing the hangers and walking surface. Rain had forced Harmon and crew to go ahead and set the cables to ensure we had time to get everything else done prior to the opening celebration. 

With the cables in place and prefabricated hangers and precut walking surface boards on site, we immediately began installing and launching the superstructure. I did get to help with tightening the bolts for the cable grips with a torque wrench since that hadn’t yet been completed. This may sound like an easy task, but trust me, it quickly wore me out. Thankfully, BtGA’s American field engineer at the time, Eric Bonet, is a young guy and had more stamina than me. While the BtGA field crew continued to install and launch the superstructure, we decided to use the BtGA “yacht” to cross the Nzoia River to tighten the cable grip bolts on the other side. Let’s just say two guys in a makeshift raft comprised of two barrels makes for a rather hairy and wet experience where one thinks they may go for a swim fully dressed. I survived and we completed the bridge on time for the celebration three days later.

There are a couple of memories that really stand out from my trip. First, the bridge build immediately drew crowds and mostly children with huge smiles on their faces who were on their way home from school and so curious to see what was going on. It wasn’t just about seeing three mzungus (white man), but the anticipation of a lifesaving bridge that would allow them quick and safe access to their school, to their gardens, to the medical clinic, or to the local market of the neighboring village. I loved watching Harmon engage with the kids, speak their language, and get down on their level with funny sounds to make them smile. The kids were also part of the opening celebration through song and dance, one of the unique qualities of Africa, so it was great to see them there from start to finish. 

It is great to know I’m part of helping save the lives of the future generation of Africa. There was a humble and genuine gratefulness from the local politicians, chiefs, elders, communities, and bridge committees on either side of the river in charge of maintenance and oversight for years to come. I can’t tell you the number of times we heard “Thank you, thank you. We are so grateful for what you have done. Please continue to help us.” 

Once the bridge was opened, there was no end to the smiling faces and excitement at being able to so easily cross the river with no fear of drowning. This is why we do what we do and I’m so grateful to be part of a life changing organization.