Summer means something different for everyone; for some, the months after school let out mean total relaxation, and for others, it’s time to get cranking on jobs and internships that help build on new skills. For a group of ten Duke students in the Pratt School of Engineering, this past summer consisted of an incredible trip to Rwanda through Duke Engineers for International Development, (DEID) a student-led club on campus.
My roommate, Catherine Wood (Pratt ’18) was one of the fearless students on this trip. Her specific group of DEID members partnered with Bridges to Prosperity, a non-profit that specializes in building bridges in underdeveloped countries, especially within Africa and Latin America.
Her team began working on their project at Duke last spring, when they virtually designed their bridge using a software program called AutoCAD. They worked through multiple rounds of prototypes to get their design approved by Bridges to Prosperity, and organized construction schedules and determined what quantities of each material they would need for their project.
In mid-May, the team journeyed to Rwanda and began the digging process. Much of their work consisted of carrying rocks from where they were dumped (about 150 meters away) to the bridge site, and while some people used wheelbarrows to transport the rocks, others (like Catherine on the left) mastered the skill of carrying them on their heads!
The students spent six weeks building the tiers and anchors of the bridge, and laying the cable, and after their power tools arrived, they spent the final week laying wooden slats across the bridge to establish the surface. Throughout the process, the team worked closely with a university in Kigali, Rwanada called IPRC, where they fabricated metal material for both their bridge, and another bridge being built nearby.
Physically building the bridge and working through the experience of designing and constructing an architecture project was certainly one of the main highlights of the trip, but getting to know the other students on the trip as well as the local community was Catherine’s favorite part. The Duke team lived behind the local school, so they played basketball and soccer daily with the children, and helped them practice their English. They also grew very close with the workers after spending nine or ten hours a day working alongside them. Though conversation was initially difficult, the team moved past the language barrier after the first couple weeks, and forged genuine, meaningful relationships.
As for the Duke team, Catherine remarks that she could not have asked for a better group of people to work with day in and day out. Each member of the team put so much effort into building relationships with community members, and into building the bridge itself, and no member of the team took any aspect of their experience for granted.