TEAM MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Chris Offen

 
 

Each month, we feature BtGA team members who have made a significant contribution to our organization. From impacting our daily processes and procedures to shaping our culture, our team members come from diverse backgrounds and are constantly finding ways to spark greatness within BtGA.

1. What is your personal philosophy?

Show dignity and fairness to all. 

 

2. Where were you born? Where are you from?  

I was born in the Bronx, NY. My parents were immigrants who later became U.S. citizens. My mother was from Ireland and father was from Germany. Thus, I was a first generation American growing up in New York City and New Jersey. Went to college in Washington DC and have always lived in the Southeastern part of the US since graduation. 

 

3. Where did you graduate? What did you study? Any certifications?  

I have a BA from The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. where I studied Biology/Pre-med. I also have an MBA in Marketing/Management from George Mason University in Virginia. I attended the Advanced Executive Program at the Kellogg School of Business, Northwestern University, Illinois; as well as several shorter Business Programs at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania. 

 

4. What three traits define you?  

Organized, focused, and analytical

 

5. Favorite book/movie?  

Movie: Star Wars. Book: The Greatest Generation by T. Brokaw

 

6. What are you most looking forward to? 

In my current retirement, I look forward towards enjoying myself with my wife, kids, grandchildren, and friends. Getting involved in endeavors and ventures that allow me to give back to people less fortunate than I have been blessed to be.  Shooting a golf score less than 100.  

 

7. What drew you to BTGA and how has BTGA changed has since joining the team?  

The focus of BTGA is to build bridges to save and improve people’s lives. It is measureable, you know you have accomplished your goal when the bridge is built. Most importantly, the bridge delivers tangible benefits to the health and economy of people in challenging areas of Africa. I believe BTGA has changed for the better by amplifying its technical and business capabilities.

 

8. What is your wish list for the organization in the next 5 years?

To develop a sustainable organization where the funding is more predictable, and the impact is larger through building more bridges each year. 

 

9. What is the favorite part about working for BTGA? 

The people of the organization have high values and are singularly focused to do what is right to improve people’s lives.  

 

10. Tell us something that might surprise us about you.  

Humorous (New York Style). I can’t walk and wear flip flops on my feet. Never learned how to wear them; therefore, I avoid them in the summer making me the odd person out within my family. 

 

TEAM MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Burleigh Law

Each month, we feature BtGA team members who have made a significant contribution to our organization. From impacting our daily processes and procedures to shaping our culture, our team members come from diverse backgrounds and are constantly finding ways to spark greatness within BtGA.

1. What is your personal philosophy?

Fulfill the plan and purpose God has for my life through my knowledge and experience as a bridge engineer.  Show others grace because it has been so freely given to me. Love my wife and kids as best I can and always cherish my time with them because life moves so quickly.  Life is precious, so do my best to serve others while I can.

 

2. Where were you born? Where are you from?  

I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) to 2nd generation missionary parents who still live and serve there today.  My Dad’s parents served there as well in the 50’s and early 60’s and my grandfather Burleigh was martyred in 1963.  I lived in Africa 11 of my first 18 years, including 3 years at Kijabe, Kenya to attend high school at Rift Valley Academy.  Nicholasville, Kentucky was home when we were in the States.

 

3. Where did you graduate? What did you study? Any certifications?  

I graduated from Asbury University in 1995 with a BA in Physical Science and from the University of Kentucky in 1996 with a BS in Civil Engineering.  At that time Asbury and UK had a 3-2 program. I took all of the standard undergraduate courses like English, science, and math at Asbury, then all of the engineering courses at UK.  I’m a licensed professional engineer in three states.

 

4. What three traits define you?  

I’m very thorough and detailed oriented, as you would hope with a bridge engineer.  I’m a bit of an introvert, but I can be assertive, vocal, and proactive when needed.  It’s taken me time to learn this, but I like to be very thoughtful, considerate, logical, and fact based in my responses to challenging or controversial topics or issues.

 

5. Favorite book/movie?  

Sadly, I haven’t read very many books in the last several years, so clearly, I need to do more reading.  The most recent book I read was You and Me Forever – Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis & Lisa Chan. It’s about how to have a healthy marriage by first being a healthy follower of Christ and served as a great reminder even after 24 years of marriage.  My favorite movie is either Forrest Gump or the Lord of the Ring series. As an engineer, I’m a bit of a sci-fi geek, so also love the Marvel movie series like Avengers and the more recent Star Wars movies.

 

6. What are you most looking forward to? 

Wow, that’s a tough one since there are so many.  I love spending time with my wife and kids, especially on vacation, and Father-Son outings or Daddy-Daughter dates, I love seeing how God is moving in the lives of my kids through the good and the bad, I love to golf and enjoy the outdoors, I love traveling to Kenya for a bridge build, I love winning projects at work, delivering on deadlines, and making clients happy.

 

7. What drew you to BTGA and how has BTGA changed has since joining the team?  

The lack of infrastructure in Africa created in me a desire to become a civil engineer, with an emphasis on bridges.  Most of the vehicular bridges over there are terrible and would scare the bravest of you, so I knew bridges was the way to go.  I’ve always known I would someday use my skills as a bridge engineer in Africa, but never found the right opportunity. The urge and desire to serve in Africa became stronger than ever toward the end of 2013, so I began searching for organizations building bridges in Africa.  I discovered BtGA and was pleasantly surprised to see Harmon as the founder and director. Harmon has been a longtime family friend, having built our home in the Congo in 1985 using his mason skills, but we hadn’t been in touch for years. I immediately reached out to Harmon to see if there was an opportunity to serve and here we are 4 ½ years later.

 

8. What is your wish list for the organization in the next 5 years?

For BtGA to have raised enough funds to support building at least 10-20 bridges per year, expand into other African countries, have a full-time design team, have more full-time staff and boots on the ground in Kenya, have trained, hired, and retained a strong team of Kenyan engineers and skilled laborers and builders, and have all the necessary trucks and equipment to support all of the above.

 

9. What is the favorite part about working for BTGA? 

There are many, but definitely includes working alongside Harmon and a great group of committed members on the TAC.  We all have full-time jobs and families, so it can be challenging to find enough time to volunteer. And really more than anything, to see the smiles on the faces of children and women crossing a brand-new bridge for the first time.

 

10. Tell us something that might surprise us about you.  

Growing up in Africa generates many surprises and life changing opportunities not afforded to others.  We had a lion on our farm in the Congo when I was 2 years old, I had malaria 7 times, I almost got bit by a black mamba and many other snakes were it not for my Congolese friends, as a family we saw the mountain gorillas in eastern Congo after an hour and a half hike through dense and dangerous forests, and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro as a senior in high school.

 

“I’ve always had a strong desire to give back to Africa and its people, so I loved being able to join BtGA as a volunteer in late 2013/early 2014 after 18 years into my professional career.” – Burleigh Law

 

The tool that is taking BTGA to the next level: Classy

Are you interested in starting a fundraising campaign to help save lives with BtGA? We have good news for you!

Meet Classy.

What is Classy? As the world’s fastest growing fundraising platform for social impact organizations, Classy has enabled millions of people across 300K individual campaigns to help fund more than 3,000 organizations. From cutting-edge health programs to educational advancement to engineering innovations, Classy’s customers are tackling the world’s greatest challenges with the power of the Classy platform. In addition, it helps 501c3 or other nonprofit organizations to run crowdfunding, online and mobile campaigns, awareness and fundraising events all under one roof.

og-classy-sq.jpg

 

We have experimented with Classy for a few months and were ready to introduce it to you.

1. We now can reach entirely new audiences.

2. Classy has allowed us to build out user friendly campaign pages that looks clean with no web development experience.

3. The staff has been extraordinarily helpful in guiding us to fully utilize all the tools and resources within the software.

4. Classy has expanded its platform’s capabilities to process donations, and issue receipts to donors across the world, in over 100 currencies.

5.  Classy is easy to use!

We can’t rave enough about their great customer service and helpfulness with strategic planning. They are also open to feedback and continue to improve their product based on their client's needs.

If you are interested in starting a fundraising campaign, and be a part of the movement to transforming lives, please contact Timirial Laney at timi@bridgingthegapfrica.org.

 

RESOURCES:

Image: https://www.classy.org/
Classy: https://www.classy.org/online-fundraising-company
Article: https://techcrunch.com/2016/11/01/classy-raises-30-million-to-help-nonprofits-raise-donations-make-a-greater-impact/

 

TEAM MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Welcome, Matthew and Débora Bowser!

We have a new monthly series:
Team Member Spotlight

We want to give you an opportunity to learn a little more about the people behind BTGA, along with some of the reasons we are excited they joined. For our first Team Spotlight, we interview BtGA's new In-Country Director, Matthew Bowser and his wife Débora, who is an Erosion Technician for BtGA. The Bowsers arrived in Kenya this month and are ready to get started making a difference in their new roles.

1. What is your personal philosophy?

M: “Find the things in life that you are not good at, and don’t do them” a quote from the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World.  I enjoy new challenges in life and appreciate finding things that I excel at; however, I am also very comfortable with my limitations.

D: “If you think you are too small to make a difference trying sleeping with a mosquito” Dalai Lama.

2. Where were you born? Where are you from?

M: I was born in New Westminster and grew up on Canada’s west coast.

D: I was born in a city located in the Brazilian Rainforest. I have dual citizenship: Brazilian and Canadian.

3. Where did you graduate? What did you study? Any certifications?

M: I have a Diploma of Civil and Structural Engineering from BCIT and received my B.A.Sc. and M.A.Sc. in Civil Engineering from the University of Waterloo.  I am a registered Professional Engineer in the Canadian Provinces of British Columbia and Ontario.

D: I attended the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada from 2011 to 2017. I graduate from a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in 2015 and a Master of Environmental Science in 2017.

4. What three traits define you?  

M: Débora says I am blond, handsome, and tall.

D: I am organized, hardworking and fun.

5. Favorite book/movie?  

M: My favourite movie is Schindler’s List, it inspires me to be a better person and to use my skills in a way that provides social change.

D: Favourite movie is Forest Gump, the thing I appreciate most about this movie is that you can find yourself in the most precarious situations and still make the most of it.

6. What are you most looking forward to?  

M: The first two nights camped out at each bridge build… by the third night I am sure reality will hit.

D: To put my education to good use.

7. What drew you to BTGA and how has BTGA changed has since joining the team?  

M: I am passionate about helping people and enjoy designing and building bridges… BtGA provides an incredible opportunity to combine my passion and profession.  In the 5 years since I joined the BtGA Team I am particularly proud that we have compiled an incredible Technical Advisory Committee and that we have developed our own BtGA Suspension Bridge design that is detailed specifically for Kenya.

D: What initially drew me was Matthew. He started to talk about BtGA at home some years ago but at the time I had no interest as I am not an engineer. When Harmon Parker came to visit us in 2015 he mentioned that erosion was a problem around the bridge sites. Now, being a plant/soil person that peeked my interest right away. When we came to Kenya in 2016 I realized if we were to move here I could be useful to the organization by developing and implementing a programme to reduce bridge scouring at the bridge sites.

8. What is your wish list for the organization in the next 5 years?  

M: My hope is that 5 years from now BtGA has a Kenyan Engineer that is able to manage bridge projects from start to finish including community engagement, design, and construction supervision.

D: To grow and reach as many communities as possible not only in Kenya but other neighbouring countries as well.

9. What is the favorite part about working for BTGA?  

M: I get to work with amazing people in a beautiful place.

D: The people you meet along the way.

10. Tell us something that might surprise us about you.

M: While am very content drinking wine from a mason jar I also have a great appreciation for fine English China.

D: As a child I used to light tarantulas on fire…there was a good reason for it, which I am happy to explain over a beer.


 

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.

•••

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

•••

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.

•••

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

•••

Will you BE A BRIDGE today and donate?

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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.

•••

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

•••

Will you BE A BRIDGE today and make a donation to build a bridge that will increase economic opportunities in Kenya?

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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.

•••

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

•••

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

•••

Will you BE A BRIDGE and donate today to promote a higher standard of living for seniors?

 

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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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Will you BE A BRIDGE and donate today to help increase access to healthcare?


 

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