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NSBA Organizes Volunteers to Construct Footbridge in Panama

The B2P team will be replacing the above bridge, which crosses the Lura River. (Photo: Bridges to Prosperity) 

The National Steel Bridge Alliance (NSBA) is collaborating with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), a nonprofit organization that builds footbridges in isolated communities across the world, to travel to the hamlet of Lura, in Churuquita Grande, Coclé, Panama April 9 to 22. The team will build a 51-m (about 168 ft) suspension bridge across the Lura River to replace the existing bridge. With the new infrastructure, 500 people will be connected to vital services such as healthcare, jobs and markets and nearly 200 children will be given the opportunity to attend school through the rainy season. 

In most agrestic environments, walking and sometimes riding horseback are the only forms of transportation, which make crossing most bodies of water precarious, especially when the rivers swell. According to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, inadequate infrastructures thwart inhabitants from leaving their community to access agricultural, educational, economic and healthcare resources, perpetuating poverty. Three-quarters of the world's chronically hungry live in provincial areas, according to the International Forum for Rural Transport and Development, so enabling farmers to trek to the marketplace to sell their crops and livestock is an effective means of reducing hunger, poverty and a myriad of related issues.

"The primary goal is to implement sustainable, year-round access to both sides of the river to the community of Lura, as well as provide education and training on bridge building and repair," said Jeff Carlson, NSBA regional director and Lura Bridge project manager.

Carlson and a volunteer team, including Rafael Davis, P.E. (Arizona DOT), Jonathan Hirschfeld (Hirschfeld Industries LP), Mike Keever, P.E. (California DOT), Jessica Martinez, P.E. (Colorado DOT), Curt McDonald, S.E. (HDR, Inc.), Theodore (Tad) Molas, P.E. (WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff), Nate Neilson (Utah Pacific Bridge and Steel), John Rohner, P.E. (CH2M HILL) and Josh Sletten, S.E. (Utah DOT) are unique to B2P's Industry Partnership Programs because of the diversity in the type of organizations involved. The team is currently working with Lura denizens and B2P staff, who have already been preparing the bridge site and building the substructure, to finalize construction plans before their arrival.

Once the team lands in Panama City, they will drive for four hours into the hinterland to reach Lura, where they will provide the labor and skills to construct the bridge. For their two-week stay, apart from sleeping in tents, the team members will live similarly to the local community. Without running water and electricity in Lura and limited cellphone service, they will use outhouses, take bucket showers, only be able to access electricity at a nearby health post and a church and make calls on a community phone which is powered by a satellite dish and a solar panel. Every few days, one or two team members will drive to the closest town, Penonomé, an hour away, to purchase groceries and use the Internet. 

On the bridge site, the team will employ electricity from a generator and use basic tools which will be supplied. B2P volunteers will bring personal protective equipment for themselves and community volunteers, donating them afterwards to B2P for future projects. The team will work Monday through Saturday from around 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and spend the evenings enjoying the beauty of Panama and playing music and sports like soccer or Frisbee with the residents. 

To learn more about B2P and how you can become a volunteer or industry partner, visit www.bridgestoprosperity.org/what-you-can-do.


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