Bridges to Prosperity

Namawukulu Footbridge on inauguration day

Namawukulu Footbridge on inauguration day

Services we provided

Ramboll is proud to partner with Bridges to Prosperity who work with isolated communities to create access to essential health care, education and economic opportunities by building trailbridges over impassable rivers. Ramboll has supported their mission since 2018, which has been made possible through funding from the Ramboll foundation. The Foundation, which was set up to ensure the financial and commercial development of the Ramboll Group, grants philanthropic donations to deserving causes each year.

Ramboll’s commitment to create sustainable societies where people and nature flourish is matched by our team’s determination across the globe that engineering can make a better world. They apply their engineering skills in remote and challenging locations to create footbridges that transform lives. It is this commitment and energy that turns dreams, into reality.

The bridges we have built to date

Rwanda 2020 - Uwumugeti-Kisuga suspension bridge over the Nyirankumbure river

The partnership between Ramboll and Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) continued to produce material results in 2020, despite not being able to physically send out a team of volunteers due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. Funded by the Ramboll Foundation and constructed by B2P alongside local craftspeople, the Uwumugeti-Kisuga suspension bridge over the Nyirankumbure river was completed in September and now serves two communities in the rural Nyamagabe Region of the Southern Province of Rwanda. The bridge provides safe access for more than 2,700 individuals who were previously forced to put their lives in jeopardy to seek opportunity.

Rwanda 2019 – Gashyushya suspension bridge over the Makurungwe river

In September 2019, a team of five Ramboll engineers from across Europe and India travelled to Rwanda together with the Bridges to Prosperity, to help build a suspension bridge across the Makurungwe river.
Prior to the new bridge, crossing the Makurungwe River could be a dangerous but necessary undertaking for the Murama and Munini communities in Gashyushya to get to the market, school and hospital. The river frequently flooded for days at a time, causing injuries and death for those who attempted to cross. The new bridge now provides safe year-round access for the local communities.

Uganda 2018 – Namawukulu footbridge over the Ngame river

In 2018, Ramboll built its first footbridge across the Ngame river in two weeks. Regular flooding means that the existing ford was impassable for about 30 days a year. The footbridge we created in partnership with NGO Bridges to Prosperity keeps the communities of LHS Namawukulu, Bumbiman RHS Kishambua and Malandu connected year-round, improving the lives of residents immeasurably.

Team Diaries - Insights to the build

Rwanda 2019 - Gashyushya suspension bridge over the Makurungwe river

By Jian Fong

Day 14 Inauguration Day

Participants for the inauguration included the district engineer, representative for the district mayor, representing the Cheza and Muhanga sector, which the bridge connects, Bridges to Prosperity programme manager, local community representative, local community that helped building the bridge and of course the Ramboll team.
Prior to the inauguration the Bridges to Prosperity engineer and district engineer went around inspecting the bridge. More nerve-racking, the school children also had a chance to perform a “load test” on the bridge during their break. By running and jumping across it. It passed!

The district mayor’s representative, Bridge to Prosperity programme manager, Mariale the and Ramboll team lead, Roser cut the ribbon and officially handed the bridge over to the local District. The team then moved to an open field for each party to give a speech. 

Everyone expressed gratitude towards the collaboration between the Rwandan government, Bridge to Prosperity, local community and Ramboll team that made this bridge happen. Bridges like this matter, and they do make a difference. The Rwandan government and Bridge to Prosperity is committed to build over 300 bridges in rural Rwanda over the next 5 years.

It started pouring halfway through the speeches, but it didn’t dampen enthusiasm. The inauguration concluded with the handing over of the certificate to the bridge community, which will be in charge of maintaining the bridge following our departure. Proceedings were wrapped up with a local dance.
Alas we had no time to hang around. We set off for Kigali straight after lunch. After an overnight stop in the capital we’ll be taking flights home to our home countries and back to normal life. It’s been a magical two weeks here, hard work for sure, but rewarding in a way that other projects can’t match.

Day 13 Site clean up, football and dancing

Only 8 of us on site at the start of today’s proceedings. We are more used to seeing construction workers and members of the community every day, and the site felt strange and empty without them. There were only few tasks left, including site clean-up, final tweaks on the fencing and some touching up of the paintwork. These were completed in the morning, so we finally got some time to relax and admire the bridge from a shady spot after lunch.
In the afternoon we organised a football match against another team, the entire community came to watch. We were under pressure to perform. Our team comprised the Ramboll team, the Bridges to Prosperity team and community members that had helped build the bridge. We managed a 3-0 victory with Anthony scoring the first goal. An incidental detail perhaps but he was insistent this was mentioned in the diaries!

Over the last couple of weeks Sulabh has become the most popular man in the community. Today he made quite a sight on the touchline when he was swamped by kids while distributing sweets. 

After a tiring match, we went back to our accommodation for a lovely barbecue with everyone that had been involved in building the bridge. Not surprisingly the barbecue ended with another Rwandan dance. The bridge community thanks us for our contribution, and we returned our gratitude for making the venture possible. This was definitely a life changing experience.

It was a perfect ending to an unforgettable experience.

Day 12

Today we woke up fresh at 6am after our 8 hours sleep. After our usual warm up and construction briefing, we started off installing the fencing by connecting it to the deck.
We also organised a visit to the nearby school where we were warmly greeted by the headteacher. We had an interactive session with a group of incredibly well-behaved students. We all introduced ourselves, who we are and where we are from. We demonstrated the bridge construction sequence as well educating them on what “not to do” on the bridge. Our school session visit concluded with a 20 minutes dance session. We were all exhausted afterwards, but in agreement that this was the highlight of our journey.

Day 11 Installing the fencing

Today the team was split into three groups. One group preparing the fencing, one group on decking and another fixing the handrail post. We managed to complete the decking in the morning and started installing the fencing in the afternoon.

The most complicated part of decking, is when they meet in the middle, requiring us to cut the plank into the correct size in order to have an aligned crossbeam coming from each end.

The Bridge to Prosperity health and safety officer came to visit the site and she was impressed with our H&S procedures. So, it’s chapeau to Anthony for doing such a great job and for being the strict guy on site.

At the end of the day thoughts turned to tomorrow’s biggest challenge. Because the scaffolding tower has been dismantled, we need to devise a solution to detach the safety line without compromising health and safety, and without having to reassemble the scaffolding tower! The bridge is nearly complete now and we can see the finishing line ahead of us.

Day 10 Weather 30 degrees!

We started installing the decking today. All of us had a safety briefing and the chance to harness up and install the decking. The view was indeed nice up there!
The 2m hardwood decking planks are really heavy and the bridge was fairly unstable before attaching to the abutments. This is why we had to take extra care despite having the harness connected to the safety line.

There are only four self-retracting lanyards available and two people started from the East and West tower respectively. The fact that the wooden plank wasn’t straight added a lot of complexity, because we needed to make sure the crossbeams aligned to each other as well as having enough room to lay 5 planks longitudinally. Furthermore, the hardwood plank was very strong and it took a lot of time and strength to drill through both the deck and nailer board whilst keeping balance. Despite this, we made great progress and managed to install 85 percent of the decking. It was indeed a tiring day for all of us, but we did have a nice view of the Rwandan sunset making it all worthwhile.

Day 8

On Saturday we made good progress and completed launching all 42 crossbeams. We also pre-drilled all 108 timber deck and started taking down scaffolding tower and touching up the tower paint.

The team made fantastic progress today. We were able to achieve 100 percent of what we wanted to achieve and it’s not often you can say that. Main progress included erection of the west tower, getting all the deck cut into correct sizes and painted. 30 percent of the suspenders bars are now bended, and 40 percent of the cross beam bolted to the nailer.
Roser and Gustav had a first try on climbing the scaffolding tower where they assisted in hoisting the main cables through the tower. With the absence of heavy machinery, we were astonished by how communication, teamwork and effort could achieve the same result.

Four 93m heavy cables were hoisted and connected through the east tower, then carried across the river and again hoisted through the east tower. Hard work up in the air, made safer by Sulabth and Gustav commanding the sequence from the ground.

I focused on supervising labour at the workstation to ensure the production line for the deck and crossbeam are ready.
We ended the day with an interactive session with the local children and they managed to remember all our names. 

Day 7 It's starting to look like a bridge

The first part of the morning involved doing some essential but repetitive tasks. This included adjusting the 4 main cables sag to the right level, marking up the positions where the cross beams will hang on the restraining cables as well as reconfirming the suspender bar length. All the tasks require precision to the millimetres under the relentless, hot Rwandan sun.

In the afternoon, the Bridges to Prosperity Rwanda programme manager visited the site and shared videos on how the children were crossing the river for school when they did the survey. This was confirmation of the importance of the mission and made us more determined than ever to get this bridge built. We’re getting on so well with them, and a safe journey to school is the least we can leave behind.

With all the preparation and “ingredients” ready, we can finally move on to the next stage where the crossbeams are lifted in place. Biggest shout out to the guys on the scaffolding tower as the crossbeams are incredibly heavy, needed to be precisely clamped to the main cables on the position previously marked at an awkward position. We managed to get 15/42 of the crossbeams lifted in place. The team were so determined and only reluctantly left site at 6pm as it was getting too dark.
At last it is starting to look like a bridge!

Day 6 The market, the cable and food
You’ll not be surprised to learn that working hard under the sun builds up your appetite. Gustav, Maureen from Bridges to Prosperity and I went food shopping at the nearest town, Muhanga, early this morning. As you’d expect it was totally different from the weekly supermarket trek, and was a great experience walking through the buzzing market with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The rest of the team stayed on site, primarily winching the cables that were connected through the east and west towers. It should be noted that getting the sag correct for the main cables is a delicate procedure if you are to ensure forces are distributed correctly and behave as designed. Anthony and Roser stayed on the levelling station and communicated with Sulabh, Gustav, me and the Bridges to Prosperity team who stayed at the winching station, tightening and loosening the cables accordingly. The cable will need to be left overnight and readjusted the next day allowing gravitational force and creep to take place.

Day 5
There was excellent progress at the workstation today. Local site workers are doing a fine job with just one engineer overseeing the production line. About 95 percent of the crossbeam are completed and 90 percent of the suspenders bar bended. 

Day 4  East Tower erection and much more
A productive day today. We have erected the east tower, got approximately 30% of the deck ready and thanks to Gustav’s efforts, we now have 50% of the suspender cables precisely measured, cut and now ready to be bent. The scaffolding towers were completed early in the day and Sulabh completed the west tower bracing and connection.
Roser and I set up a nailing and timber cutting station. Interestingly we had to train the locals on safely using power tools. Understandably they lacked confidence at first but it was great to see their confidence grow and become fully competent by the end of the day.

We’re all learning on the job and becoming more efficient. While yesterday saw locals spending a fair amount of time awaiting instruction, today we managed and distributed the team much better with each of us leading 5 to 6 locals on specific tasks. Lean manufacturing? Getting there!
With each day we’re interacting and communicating more with locals and hearing their stories. The bridge we’re replacing connects two sides of the 2,000+ community and acts as main access to school, market and church. We were told that during monsoon season (normally April), the water level rises to a 40m wide and 3m deep torrent. This can mean a lengthy wait to cross, as there’s no alternative routes. Which is, of course, why we’re doing this.

Day 3 Scaffolding Tower set up
Our first full day on the site of the bridge. After a 5.45 alarm call courtesy of the local rooster, followed by a hearty breakfast of omelette, bread and coffee, we made our way to the site.

It was the first time the full construction teams (Ramboll, the Bridges to Prosperity team and the 20+ committee members) met up. Roser led the warm-up with stretches before a construction brief by Sulabth. Anthony gave the important health and safety speech, necessarily using body language to maximum effect.

We organised ourselves into teams, with Gustav sorting out the shed, Roser and Anthony sorting out the suspension cables whilst Sulabth and I supervised the transportation of scaffolding to the abutment.

Next step was erecting the 4-level scaffolding tower on both sides of the river. With Anthony’s training in working at heights, he was a natural to lead this process. Meanwhile the rest of us focused on connecting the tower on the other side of the river with increased difficulty because it’s located on an inclined ramp.
We managed to complete 90% of the work but we were slowed down by heavy late afternoon rain, which eventually forced us to pack up for the day before darkness set in. Despite the heavy rain our activities were witnessed by large crowds. We were joined by dozens of school kids quietly standing and observing our every move.

Day 1 and 2 Journey and arrival
It’s Sunday evening and we are all finally here at Gashyushya, a two hour drive out of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. We’ve just had a lovely dinner prepared by the full Bridges to Prosperity team, where we went through the construction sequence with the core team and got ready for a 7am start tomorrow.
The journey for me began first thing on Saturday morning with a short flight across to Amsterdam airport where I met the rest of the European contingent. I joined up with Roser from Copenhagen, Anthony from Helsinki and Gustav from Gothenburg. The final member of the Ramboll group, Sulabh from Gurugram office in India, would meet up with us in Kigali.  

We finally met up in Kigali in the early evening, and were also joined by Mariale, the programme manager for Bridges to Prosperity. Over dinner Mariale ran through some of the details of the upcoming project.

On Sunday morning we were scheduled for an early start on the final leg of our journey to Gashyushya, but we were delayed for some time. Not because of traffic as you might expect, but because Sunday was a designated traffic free day in Kigali, one of two each month. The delay did give us the chance to explore the city and get some last-minute shopping done.

I was impressed by how clean the city is, and I found out afterwards it is apparently the cleanest in Africa. Not only are cars periodically excluded from the streets but there is a complete ban on plastic packaging. We have much to learn.

We finally resumed the last leg of our journey to Gashyushya. After being greeted by many of the villagers, we immediately headed out to the site to inspect progress so far. The foundations have been set and we performed some initial checking to make sure the abutment was levelled and set out correctly.
Our accommodation is comfortable but basic. Currently 60 percent of Rwanda is connected to the electricity grid and the Government is committed to connecting the whole country by 2024. Unfortunately, this has not reached our accommodation yet, and we have no electricity or running water. I can’t see this being a problem as I anticipate crashing out each evening exhausted, but it may make keeping these diaries up to date more of a challenge.

Uganda 2018 - Namawukulu footbridge over the Ngame river

Day 13 inauguration day
The day is finally here, it’s hard to believe so much has happened in the last week and a half! With real anticipation we drove down to site early. Today was to be a full day of speeches dances and celebrations.

There were lengthy and lively speeches from local politicians and from bridge committee members. There were poems and dances from local schoolchildren, there was dancing with locals. The ceremony concluded with a procession to open the bridge officially and it was like nothing I’ve seen before.  Hundreds of people crossing the bridge, watching and enjoying the day.

It was the perfect conclusion to our project. We came here to build a bridge that would radically transform and improve the lives of the community. Today we saw clearly the impact our work will have, and how appreciative everyone was. Bridges always bring people together, and we always have a sense of pride in our role in creating lasting engineering structures, but seldom do we get to appreciate the impact they have, close up, face to face. Wonderful!

Day 12
Today is the day that we must finish everything on the bridge ahead of tomorrow’s inauguration. It was a great day when everyone really pulled together and put in an Olympic sized effort to get the job done.

Final tasks included backfilling with rock on the right-hand side cable pit and pouring the infill slab. Fortunately, this didn’t take nearly as long as the other side because the concrete mixer was a lot closer to the pit. The fencing had to be bent and tied with small cable ties to hold it in place.

A lot of other small tasks had to be completed including fixing wooden treads to the bridge, cutting off dangerous point rebar ends and trying to do all this during a familiar Ugandan downpour in the middle of the day. As light started to fade, it slowly dawned on us that we had done it. Finished! Euphoric, yet utterly exhausted we made our way home to rest. Well not quite. With the job done we were joined by all our coworkers at the homestay for celebratory beers, laughs, music, and a chance for them to show us some funky dance moves! 

Day 11
There’s much still to do before inauguration of the bridge in only three days’ time. There seems to be no let-up in the oppressive humid weather, and lengthy torrential tropical downpours continually delay progress. But that’s what we signed up for.

We’re focusing on the fencing today. We manage this by the team carrying fencing onto deck and then sliding it into position. We had to drill the wooden kerbs at the base of the fence and screw these into the deck. It’s an unusual technique but made necessary by the peculiar geography. It involves a massive team effort, and the first time Bridge to Prosperity has used this method for installing fencing.

Wojciech and Eddie checked slope stability and monitored with wooden stakes. Bridges to Prosperity were keen to make the most of Ramboll’s view on the geotechnical issues on site so this was a way we could really help them out. After lunch a lengthy period of heavy rain kept us in the tent for a while and we all made the most of this period to have a rest. Once the rain let up slightly the community workers got back outside and started work on backfilling the nearside abutment with large rocks. Meanwhile we set about bending the wire fence over the handrail cable. This was a big team effort and required a lot of coordination from the team.

Day 10
Yesterday was a rest day, much needed after an exhausting 6-day week. A couple of issues arose, the first being that the winch was broken first thing this morning. We lost some time trying to work out what the issue was. It turned out that almost all the teeth were broken off one of the cogs. This was not great news as lead times on a new winch, or indeed any new part, here in eastern Uganda, are measured in season. The team improvised by unclamping the handrails to try to level up the deck, which was slanting upstream. Finally, after much checking with the auto level the cables were found to be within tolerance, which was great news to finish a long day.

The concrete pouring for the infill slab on far side of bridge had to be conducted without any machinery. This meant resorting to the time-honoured human chain technique. This took virtually the whole day and was utterly exhausting work. As I sit here now I can barely lift my fingers to type this diary.

Day 9
This is actually only day 6 of the construction but already we can see the fruits of our labour. Progress on the decking quickened, and inevitably the pace picked up as we started to get into a rhythm. After the morning break for coffee we had to stop work due to heavy rain, which might mean more mud. It’s something we’re having to get used to here, sudden and heavy downpours. We’re at the end of the rainy season so it’s pretty inevitable, and on the plus side it accounts for the lush green vegetation we see here. And the mud.

Meanwhile, the fencing team continued to make good progress, finishing sometime after lunch. Most of us agreed that this was the toughest task physically so far but having an audience of giggling local children was funny and made up for this. At around 5 o’clock the decking was completed with the final boards being cut to length, after checks were made up on the deck. Working up on the deck was tough but very cool, with amazing views all around. And finally seeing the deck completed on time was a great moment for all of us. 

Days 7 & 8
Not much to write I’m afraid, it’s been hard, hard work. It’s now time to begin work on the deck itself, laying the pre-drilled longitudinal deck planks. This was quite a slow task to begin as we had to spend time working out the best way to do this, while remaining within tolerances. Away from the bridge itself work on the mesh fencing started, which involved laying out timber kerbs, rolling out the mesh across this and nailing it into place. This is the first time Bridges to Prosperity have used this prefabrication method and the fencing panels in 17.5m lengths will be launched onto the bridge by volunteers once completed.

Day 6
Started as usual with a 6.30 breakfast aiming to leave around 7ish. On the way to site we were delayed while a lorry trapped in the mud was cleared. There really is quite a lot of mud here, everywhere! 

On arrival to site we had our usual safety briefings. We’ll now be working at height, placing deck plates, so this morning Tim and Eddie gave us a briefing on safety harnesses and working up in the air. The teams split as usual with some going to check the cable sag (great news, all looking good after the night in the rain) while the rest of us went off to prepare for the cradle launching in the afternoon.

Carrying the prefabricated crossbeams and nails was really difficult work, from the tool store to the bridge site, over muddy ground (did I mention the mud?). Luckily the locals are much tougher than us and handled this quite easily. The afternoon saw us start the process of attaching the suspenders over the cables and through the cross beams. The suspenders were then bent into place ready for launching. By the time we were ready for launch, quite a crowd had gathered. No pressure then. With a lot of pulling on the guide ropes from one side we launched it into place, much to the crowd’s enjoyment and our relief. It was a great process and amazing to see the bridge starting to take shape.

Day 5 
The day began with a real highlight, Eddie Leach’s stretch and flex. It’s essentially an early morning warm-up but came as something of a surprise to everyone on site. 
We achieved the correct cable sag by the middle of the day and by the end of the day we had all of the steel crossbeams attached to the wooden nailers (crossbeams) and the deck plans pre-drilled.

We are really enjoying the experience so far and making real progress now.

Day 4
Real excitement this morning as our project started in earnest.  After the 15 minute very bumpy drive to site we arrived and were given a walk-through of the village and the site by James, a Bridges to Prosperity engineer who is based in Uganda. The landscapes are absolutely stunning with mountains and greenery everywhere.

We went to meet the team of workers, each of us giving our introductions which were translated from English to Liguisi through a local interpreter. Interestingly there was a higher proportion of women workers than we would normally expect in the UK. We continued with a meeting with Erica, another Bridge to Prosperity engineer and the foremen for the project. Meanwhile the workers began with earthworks for the bridge approach and construction of staircases to more inaccessible parts of the site; it’s very muddy and slippery here!

In the afternoon we kicked off the work, with the teams split. Some of us marking up deck planks and nailer beams and the others checking the value for the towers and beginning to hoist the cables to achieve the correct sag. It’s really physical, muddy work but hugely enjoyable and the workers here are impressive, they progress things very quickly. The working day is normally 8 until 5 but the first day we were out a bit longer and by the time we got back, a cold Nile (a Ugandan beer) and some traditional food was more than welcome.

Day 3 Kampala to Bududa
After a good night’s sleep we were met by James and Erica from Bridges to Prosperity who had come to accompany us on the 7-hour journey from Kampala to Bududa, on the eastern fringe of Uganda. 

The journey was long and constantly interesting in this totally unfamiliar environment. We really saw a transition from the city roads to progressively smaller dirt tracks as we headed further east. Finally, we reached the Zaales homestay in Bududa and were given and a very warm welcome by our host, the vibrant David Zaales. We spent the evening unpacking, relaxing and getting to know each other better and preparing for the first day on site.  It’s been a long journey, and we’re all keen to get started on the bridge.

Day 1 – 2 Heathrow to Kampala
Finally we are off. After making all the preparations over the last six weeks we dashed out of work on Friday afternoon to head to Heathrow. Tim Prosser was meeting us in Dubai as he was coming directly from Birmingham.

We landed in Dubai for a two hour stopover, which felt a bit strange given that the local time was about 4am. We waited for Tim Prosser who was flying in from Birmingham, and Sercan, the IABSE team lead who was flying in from Istanbul.

The journey was amazing, we saw motorbike taxis (boda-bodas) all over the place, people on bikes, lush green scenery and people everywhere.
At the hotel near Kampala we met up with the other team members from IABSE, Alberto and Sabrina from Italy and Spas from Bulgaria. It was really great to finally meet everyone after all the skype calls!

More on the Bridges to Prosperity projects

Rwanda 2020

The partnership between Ramboll and Bridges to Prosperity continued to produce material results in 2020, despite not being able to physically send out a team of volunteers due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. 

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