Building bridges can be a lifeline in rural locations. There’s only one tarmac road in our area, the rest are dirt, subject to erosion in torrential rain and storms.
This is the main bridge on the dirt road linking 15 remote villages (about 7,500 people) from the Mozambique border through to the tarmac road and facilities but it gradually collapsed during relentless bad weather. In the dry season crossing the gap in the broken road is inconvenient, but in the rainy season it’s dangerous—5 villagers have lost their lives here. Tributaries up-stream feed in, swelling the river up to 30m across with fierce currents, so many couldn’t cross to the Government Health Clinic, maternity facilities, school (1,235 students), and local town for business, food and other basics.
We were approached by Village Heads, asking if we could help rebuild it as it was impossible for local villagers to embark on such a large restoration scheme. So we agreed to work in partnership; we’d supply timber, dozens of bags of cement, quarry stone and specialist builders, if they would provide a few local poles, sand, and bring rocks to site.
The planned bridge would span 8m, supported by 3 pillars. One had partly survived, so would be renovated, with its counterpart built on the opposite bank and the central pillar added, all made of granite rocks cemented together over a 2m-deep rock foundation. Finally, the structures would be topped with wooden poles and specially treated timbers nailed into place. Not an easy project to manage, with complex logistics, and heavily reliant on voluntary labour. Timbers were ordered, cement bought, poles cut, and when rocks started to appear carried by the villagers, the building work began.
However, all came to a halt a few weeks later when it was fully realised by the community that their enthusiastic assurances to supply adequate stone were too ambitious.
Another meeting considered the options, and we decided to use our motor-trikes to ferry rock the villagers collected from the mountain, to site - no commercial truck could manage the terrain.
This actually kept the project alive and active, as the villagers saw our guys labouring with them, and our vehicles being heavily battered but effectively transporting over 30 tons of rock.
Eventually, 4 months later, the bridge was completed, and the whole community came together to formally celebrate its official opening. Many Chiefs, civic leaders and dignitaries held a solemn ceremony. The bridge was prayerfully dedicated, then officially handed over to the local community amid enthusiastic singing, drama, and traditional dancing, expressing joyful appreciation of this invaluable long-term benefit to their community.
But some bridges weren’t quite so significant....
Nansanya & Lola Bridges
Locally, a decade before, we used to hop across uneven ground to pass along the dirt road to Chiringa. But since then, torrential rains upstream have swept down, hacking out huge chasms in the roadway, slicing it into 4 sections. Sometimes floodwater reached 4ft high, causing dangerous crossings, and current bridges were unsafe and especially challenging for the elderly and infirm.
So we planned to reconstruct two new bridges along this road, and resurface the third. It’s a heavily used pedestrian thoroughfare, hundreds of people travel this route daily, children walking to school, and villagers travelling to market, maize mills, hospitals and water supplies.
So we set to work.....
The first bridge in Nansanya Village just needed the top timbers to be replaced, so that was done.
The second bridge was in Lolo Village. The timbers were collapsing, the pillars undermined by water, and the bridge so unstable that it relied on a pole to hold it up!
Excavating 1.5m down to bedrock, the foundations were cemented in. Stone pillars were built and pointed, huge poles secured and treated timbers laid.
This bridge took 5 weeks of hard labour to complete, and is now a sturdy, stable construction, expected to last for decades to come.
The third bridge, on the other side of Lolo Village, was the smallest of the three, originally made of sticks, unsteady and shaky.
Again, foundations were dug to bedrock, pillars built, poles laid, and topped with treated timbers. It was decided to keep this bridge too narrow for motor vehicles, to stop the whole road becoming a fast-moving shortcut to local amenities, endangering children and other vulnerable folk living in the area.
The bridge was successfully completed a few weeks later!
Villagers collected tons of stone and river sand for the construction of these bridges as their contribution. We employed the building team, and gave work to carpenters, timber cutters, quarry stone hackers, transporters and local building suppliers.
The poor condition of these bridges had restricted normal life in this whole area, so their repair and replacement changed hundreds of lives. Children often travel long distances to school, so this newly- restored safe route meant an hour less walking each day!