Three Local Penn State University Women Help Build a Suspension Bridge in Rwanda 

 By Paula Green 

           The Penn State University Chapter of Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) recently constructed a 200-foot suspension bridge in the Muhanga District in Rwanda, Africa.   The eight-member team of engineering students consisted of three local women – Lauren Donatelli of West View/Ross, Grace Daigle of Fineview/North Side and Abby Cowser of Bethel Park. 

         Construction lasted about eight weeks, and ran from mid-April to mid-June.  It was truly a rewarding experience for all three of these ladies. 

         “I was the construction manager on the trip and was in charge of the construction schedule and coordinating activities with the in-country engineers, and the experience was utterly amazing. The people we met in Rwanda were appreciative, passionate and welcoming. The best thing about building the bridge was the lesson I learned about teamwork. Not only depending on Abby and Gracie for moral support, but also for working with the entire team from Penn State, the Bridges to Prosperity National Representatives and our corporate sponsors. By working together, the result was something amazing, lasting and beneficial to the entire community. These people have changed my life forever. Bridges to Prosperity made me the person I am, and I’m incredibly thankful for all that I have accomplished in Kumusenyi, Rwanda,” said Donatelli. 

        “Being a part of the bridge build was one of the most humbling and edifying things I’ve ever done. I served as design manager for the project. Many people helped in the design process; I was lucky to see it actually happen.  The best moment came on the last day of construction. During the last week, a crowd of kids gathered to watch us finish.  It took us a full day to tie the fencing to the handrail cables, and it was exhausting. At the end of the day, we collapsed on the hillside and didn’t really process that we had just finished the bridge.  Sylive, one of the B2P masons, gathered the kids together around the start of the bridge. There were about 30 of them singing, skipping, sprinting and dancing across our bridge (which had just become their bridge). The joy on their faces brought me to tears. Through teamwork, service and love, this community will have safe access across the river all year around,” Daigle said.   

       “The bridge was ultimately why we went to Rwanda, but the most memorable and life-changing moments involved the people and unconditional love. For me, this was an opportunity to use my field of study combined with my passion for service to make a difference. Even though we didn’t speak their native language and few people spoke English, we’d gather together every morning and praise God through praying, singing and dancing. These moments of joy allowed us to connect and understand what it means to be a part of something bigger.  We’re living proof that even 7,000 miles away, we’re all children of God and can work together. The biggest lesson learned after spending a month in Rwanda is, material possessions and things associated with being “successful” in America are trivial.  It’s all about love and helping your neighbor, something lost in our culture. Working together with the Rwandans on this bridge was crucial in improving their education, healthcare and economic livelihood to allow them to have the security they deserve,” said Cowser. 

        Since the bridge has become a reality, 8,500 people in the vicinities of Gitega and Ryakanimba will now have safe and easy access to healthcare, education and fulfilling journeys in Rwanda.