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.
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.
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.
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.