Bridge the Gap: A River Crossing Connects Lives

Derek Hansen Education, News, Real Life Story Leave a Comment

Sometimes the water that brings us together and cements our schools is the same water that separates our lives and futures. This year Project Schoolhouse tackled a new kind of school access project: a bridge.

And so began the journey of 15 families in the community of San Antonio, tucked away in the lush northern hills of Nicaragua’s Matagalpa region.

Now, to fully grasp this undertaking, imagine the circumstances.

Excavation for bridge

Families excavate by hand to prepare one of the key bridge supports.

It is March. You are deep in rural Nicaragua with limited road access and scarce resources. You have a small but dedicated team of 15 families, all of whom depend on their annual harvest while donating nonexistent free time to the construction project.

Before any building takes place, you must divert the river. Using sandbags — filled, carried and placed by hand. Then, as quickly and carefully as possible, your team constructs concrete foundations for each of your bridge supports. Next, under the direction of your master builder and mason (a Nicaraguan legend in the region), your team builds the supports. Using stones from the river and concrete mixed on the river bank. All of this must happen before the river rises again.

Enter the I-beams. Or rather, enter the steel that your team will now weld, on-site, into I-beams. Massive beams that will be painted, raised and placed by hand. You begin to see the pattern: a DIY project of epic proportions. Except you can’t just run to Home Depot when a tool breaks or you need more cement. You wait.

Workers carrying metal bridge beam

Workers carry a welded I-beam across the Palán River.

In spite of these incredible obstacles, you achieve the impossible.

Nine months after breaking ground, our pedestrian bridge in San Antonio stands complete. Our team placed the final beams just before Thanksgiving; the railing and concrete floor were finished last week.

This is truly an epic project – a structure that will endure as a symbol of pride for the community. As you can see from the photos, the Palán River quickly turns to rapids and becomes impassible in the wetter months. Now residents can cross daily, regardless of the season.

Welding bridge railing

Workers weld the railing and chainlink protective fencing.

“This [bridge] will impact the San Antonio community in big and unforeseeable ways,” says PSH Executive Director Tab Barker. “Families have been crossing the river wherever they can, if they can. Now traffic and commerce will be focused around the bridge. We’re excited for the impact on school access, first, but also for economic growth across the community.”

María Inés Bracamonte, In-Country Coordinator for Project Schoolhouse and the bridge project, echoed Barker’s feelings of triumph. She used two Spanish words of love to describe the bridge: ‘amar’ and ‘encantar’. “A mí me encanta [el puente], me siento muy orgullosa de ejecutar este proyecto. Lo amo mucho.” (Translation: “I love the bridge, I feel very proud of executing this project. I love it so much.”)

Work continues on the school in San Antonio, with an expected completion date of Jan. 30th, 2017.

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