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"It’s Bigger Than Us"
February 04, 2020
The 20 Balfour Beatty teammates selected for our 2019 Bridges to Prosperity build teams thought they knew what they were signing up for.
Their task – to plan and construct two new footbridges for isolated communities in Bolivia – was daunting, but there was some assurance in knowing they had the experience of our 2017 and 2018 Bridges to Prosperity build projects to draw from.
But shortly before their planned departure, growing civil unrest in Bolivia presented a tough decision: press pause on the Bolivia builds or change locations entirely.
Despite the logistical challenges and time crunch involved, our determined teammates made a unanimous decision to adapt their build projects to two new communities in the African nation of Rwanda. Also known as “the land of a thousand hills”.
After an epic plane and car journey to reach their respective (and very remote!) build sites, both teams arrived feeling tired and weary but completely humbled by the warm reception they received from the local communities and the stunning but treacherous landscape that surrounded them.
On the ground, the intimidating scale of the task became clear. The two bridges, each spanning over 50 meters in length had to be built from scratch by a team of virtual strangers who had never worked together before – some of whom had no prior construction experience.
Initial feelings of anxiety and confusion subsided as the teams adapted to their new surroundings and began to find rhythm with one another and the project. It was a rhythm that was hard to break. Mother Nature did her best (or her worst), with intense storms and mud slides that periodically interrupted work, but even that wasn’t enough to stop both teams from completing their builds ahead of schedule.
Stripped of the comforts and luxuries taken for granted back home, teammates found the physical experience to be tougher than imagined. But as exhausting and intense as the physical challenges were, they were always balanced by emotional experiences that proved impossible to forget.
For example, grueling daily hikes to the build sites allowed them to take in some of the most picturesque sunrises they had ever seen. And the sound of local teammates chanting in unison as they worked to untangle 4,400 pounds of cables and pull them up and across muddy river banks - all by hand - was enough to leave everyone awestruck by the power of teamwork and determination.
If teammates needed a source of motivation at any point, they didn’t need to look far. Community members would cluster around the build sites daily, taking great interest in all the teams’ activities and cheering them on at each milestone.
The biggest cheers arose on inauguration day, when the teams led the communities across their new bridges for the very first time. The rousing celebrations allowed teammates to witness firsthand the personal impact of their work and what it represents to those who will use it.
The impact the bridges will have on the communities is immeasurable. From safe passage to farmland, local markets, schools and medical facilities, it will sustain and improve the quality of life for generations to come. And, as Project Coordinator and 2019 build team member Andrea Martini notes, it will also "connect a community that believed themselves to be invisible to the entire world".
But the impact it has made on those that helped build it is equally significant. Each teammate has their own story of the experience and personal encounters that moved them – but they all share the same theme. A deep sense of amazement, gratitude and humility that can’t be put into words.
Project Engineer and 2019 build team member Brandon Cline probably said it best: “The hardest part of the entire experience is describing it”.
It’s clear from the teammates' testimonies that they thought they knew what they were in for, but nothing could have prepared them for the life-changing reality.
The experience might have been bigger than they imagined, but so too, are the rewards. For those who built the bridges and for those who will use them.