RPS Belfast Highway and Transport Graduate Engineer, Martin McGuinness was part of a team of ten volunteers that have recently returned from the Nyaruguru District of Rwanda to build a 45m suspension bridge, in collaboration with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and led by Bridges to Prosperity.
With it being three weeks since Martin has returned to work and settled back into life in an office, as compared to the hills of Rwanda, he has had time to reflect on his experience. He has had this to say:
"This experience has been life changing for me as someone who is beginning their career, it has made me want to use my civil engineering skills to get involved in similar projects in the future. I would also recommend that everyone take part in projects of this nature as it gives you an appreciation for what we have. The experience was tough but rewarding. The whole team found it difficult to adjust to the lifestyle that the locals in Rwanda are experiencing every day. Luxuries that we take for granted in the UK are non-existent in the rural Muganza sector. Seeing the happiness of the locals upon completion of the project made me realise the importance of the project. It also made living without certain luxuries, was little price to pay to help a community living with very little. While the community were living with very little they were some of the happiest people I have ever met."
To highlight why ICE envisioned to get involved in this project and ultimately why RPS became a sponsor, Martin recounts a situation that happened the day before the bridge was officially opened; "While the team were getting their obligatory photos on the bridge, we noticed a local community member making his way from the hills that lead to the market toward the existing bridge. Not only was this man about to cross the dangerous existing bridge but he was going to do so with only one leg and a set of makeshift crutches. This is when the team fully realised why we were there. Upon this we all encouraged the man to cross our now completed bridge. The happiness on the man’s face as he made his way across the bridge meant we could all go home knowing that we at least made one man’s daily journey a lot safer."
With year-round access to critical resources now a reality for the local community, they can begin the process of empowering themselves out of poverty.
A project that started out as the construction of a bridge turned into a project that gave a local community something that we all in the western world take for granted. The impact of this project has been recognised further with Martin and the team being invited to a civic reception with Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Deirdre Hargey.
See also: ICE press release (click here).