At Michael Baker, Making a Difference extends to affecting change around the world for those who need it most. In that spirit, Michael Baker partners with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), a nonprofit organization dedicated to constructing footbridges in remote, underdeveloped areas of the world, to sponsor the construction of suspension bridges in isolated parts of the world, creating better access to economic, educational and health care opportunities. Since 2016, Michael Baker has sponsored the construction of footbridges in different communities in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Rwanda.
I was lucky enough to be chosen for the 2018 B2P project serving the small village of Kayarani, which lies in the province of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Around 200 people live in the village, which sits at over 11,000 ft in arid mountainous terrain. There is a river that runs right through the middle of the community, separating people from their schools, crop fields, livestock and vital community resources. In the dry season, you can rock hop your way across the river without getting your feet wet. In the rainy season, this river becomes completely impassable and has dangerously swift water.
Previously, community members were forced to use a very narrow highway bridge to cross the river, which has no room for pedestrians among the road traffic. A young girl was hit and killed by a truck on her way to school due the accessibility issues. This event helped the community and B2P realize the need for an alternative connection within the community.
Over the course of two weeks, the Michael Baker Team, a couple of local skilled workers from B2P and members of the community completed the construction of a 128 ft long suspension bridge. It required a lot of hard work, manual labor and effective communication (easier said than done in the mountains of Bolivia!). The teamwork involved in connecting each group and completing this project was so much fun to watch and be a part of. Each group was absolutely integral in completing the project safely and quickly.
Every day, we woke up next to our team members. We were staying in a 1 room house which fit the ten person Michael Baker team without much room to spare. This increased the rate of bonding exponentially! Our designated chef in the community, Dona Ida, would cook us breakfast before starting our workday. We worked each day from sunup to sundown.
When we completed construction, the next day was the inauguration and celebration. The party lasted all day long with the community. There was dancing, music, community activities and more. Seeing the smiles and laughter of the community was so fulfilling and heartwarming. They tried to feed us at least 6 meals, our glasses were never empty and they were showering us in gratitude for completing the project. However, they did not show us any mercy when we played them in a game of soccer! I played soccer in high school but have never tried playing at this altitude which proved to be humbling.
It was a fantastic feeling to complete the project. Members of the community no longer have to fear for their lives or the lives of others while simply walking throughout their land.
It is easy to take the small things in life that we use every day for granted. I originally applied to take part in this project because I saw it as a unique opportunity to help a community in need. I got much more than I had originally bargained for. Seeing the struggles an impoverished community goes through on a daily basis made me look at my everyday “problems” in a very different light. My problems felt inferior compared to what the people in this community face. Personally, it totally changed my perspective on daily life, and I am a better person because of it. Seeing how the community cared for and looked after one another made me reflect on how I treat others around me. Every day, I strive to be more compassionate and loving to any person that crosses my path.
Some of my favorite memories from the trip were interacting with members of the community and their children. Not many words were exchanged as many could not speak English but body language can go a long way when words cannot be spoken. I hardly have a grasp on Spanish but most were speaking Quechua or a combination of the two. Quechua was the language of the Inca Empire.
I had never completed any type of planned construction before this project. It was an extremely rewarding process to go from looking at the planset in the office, to traveling to Bolivia, to actually building this bridge. It gave me a whole new appreciation for construction work and how much hard work and sweat goes into even the smallest projects.
I love to see businesses like Michael Baker getting involved with this type of philanthropy. We have the ability financially and physically to help many people around the world. B2P is a fantastic organization which streamlines the process of connecting companies like us to communities around the world. This partnership with B2P is a great fit since it aligns with the work we do on a daily basis in our own backyard. Using that power and knowledge to help people in need demonstrates how We Make a Difference in our own communities and for others around the world.