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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