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Q&A Dec 29, 2022

A Bridge to the Future: A Q&A on Connecting Communities in Rwanda

Reflect with #OurJacobs Bridges to Prosperity team as they return from building a bridge in Rwanda.

B2P team standing on the Kibiraro bridge

This summer, twelve #OurJacobs teammates from around the world traveled to Kibiraro, Rwanda to help construct a footbridge with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) so that more than 3,000 community members could go to school, receive medical care and sell their crops at the market.

We connected with the team to find out what their top lessons are as they reflect on their experience of a lifetime.

Meet Joanne, Erin, Jim, Ashley, Sam, Daisy, Tim, Ousmane, Nicola, Stewart, Charlotte and Alex:

What did you do either on your own or as a team that surprised you?

Joanne: Although I don't know if it surprised me, one thing that was terrific that the team did at the end of each day when we were back at our accommodations and after dinner was to go around the room and have everyone talk about a highlight or something notable about the day. The openness, honesty and sometimes vulnerability of the team was tremendous and really helped to continue to strengthen the bonds among the team.

What characteristics and traits are essential for a B2P team member?

Erin: Team members need to be compassionate, adaptable, hardworking and ready for an adventure. The best team members are there, first and foremost, because they care about the cause and want to help others. The experience has a lot of logistics and moving parts, so it’s good if team members can easily adapt and react to unexpected challenges and be proactive in finding ways to overcome them. Ultimately, it’s also beneficial to be easygoing and to want to learn about a different culture.

What was the most important lesson that you learned on the build?

Jim: I learned that a group of dedicated people from all over the world with no common language, culture, politics or history can come together and accomplish amazing things — not only the completion of the bridge but creating true friendships and sharing. One of my favorite moments was when a local community member pointed to his house from the site and asked where I was from. We looked at Google maps and talked about both of our homes.

What would you most recommend doing/seeing in Rwanda?

Ashley: Rwanda is "Rwanderful"! I would highly recommend wandering around the capital city Kigali, get lost in a market or two and generally explore the country to the fullest extent. You can spend some time at Lake Kivu — it's massive. Then, if you have the opportunity, certainly check out Volcanoes National Park and visit the mountain gorillas. That was remarkable. You could also head over to Akagera National Park and attempt to find the Big 5. Get off the beaten path and explore — it’s truly a wonderful country.

What was the most memorable meal on the trip?

Sam: I can't narrow it down to just one memorable meal on the trip — there were certainly a few favorites! I think a standout for most people was a chorizo curry. I also enjoyed goat, having never tried it before the trip. Ugali, which I think of as a sticky mashed potato, was great for mopping up remaining sauces. I also enjoyed the homemade potato samosas with a few drops of chili oil. Lastly, all meals were completed with some fresh fruit for dessert. The mango was incredible.

  • B2P team next to bridge
  • three teammates working on the Kibiraro bridge
  • Constructing the Kibiraro bridge
  • Team on the Kibiraro bridge during construction

What’s something you’ve taken away from this trip?

Daisy: I learned that we can often overthink things — sometimes you can get the most happiness from the simplest things in life. I would consider this experience like a detox from western lifestyle, in the sense that walking to site every day, being in a team of like-minded individuals and very physically active was extremely rewarding for both my body and mind. ​I’ve been inspired to look at my lifestyle habits, take a step back and assess what's really important.

What was your favorite team bonding activity on the trip?

Tim: Each morning prior to discussing the construction and safety topics of the day, we led a series of light stretching to loosen everyone up for a hard day’s work. By day two, the stretching morphed into dancing and Zumba. This certainly brought our Jacobs team closer, but more importantly, it brought us closer with the local community workers as everyone literally jumped right in. People would take it in turns leading the warmup from the middle of a circle and then everyone else would mimic their dance moves. Some local children even participated from a distance. This endeared us to one another and helped us become one unified team.

What advice or top tips would you give someone who wants to volunteer for a bridge build?

Ousmane: I would say be prepared physically and mentally. Because you will be part of the team physically helping to build the bridge, it’s helpful to have a good level of fitness. You will most likely have to hike in order to get to the site. I remember someone recommended that I exercise with a stair climber machine before the trip — it will come in handy, trust me. Second, it’s helpful to be adaptable and resilient because your day-to-day experience may be very different from what you’re used to. I would recommend bringing an air mattress or a sleeping bag, something to cover yourself at night — it can get pretty cold, which you may not expect!

What did this team do that you think would be important to carry on for future builds?

Nicola: Since the Jacobs team didn't know each other to begin with, regular pre-trip meetings with enough time to get to know the team members were important. We also had a Microsoft Teams site where we could ask questions and chat about anything that we were concerned about. Also, having lots of generous friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances was very helpful when it came to fundraising for our travel costs.

What would surprise people the most about the trip?

Erin: How much prep work is involved. In addition to getting the project funded via grants from our giving & volunteering program Collectively, getting support from executive leadership and running a robust application and team selection process, the team spent many hours before the trip planning logistics, communications, construction plans, health and safety plans and getting to know one another and each person's unique skill set. It was very helpful that there was time to connect as a team before meeting each other in person at the start of the trip.

  • Selfie of bridge construction in Kibiraro
  • Four Jacobs B2P teammates cheering
  • Two Jacobs B2P teammates on the bridge
  • Selfie of bridge construction in Kibiraro

“I learned that a group of dedicated people from all over the world with no common language, culture, politics or history can come together and accomplish amazing things — not only the completion of the bridge but creating true friendships and sharing.”

Jim Wilson

Jacobs Microwave Project Manager

What did you pack that came in handy?

Stewart: Lots of snacks and energy supplements. The physical challenge of constructing the bridge, carrying heavy rocks, metal panels, the drastic elevation changes in the terrain and the heat all combined to make each day’s work extremely physically demanding. I brought several types of snacks, mainly energy bars, gummies and electrolyte tablets of numerous flavors, which proved to be a huge help. Whenever someone looked drained, a few energy gummies provided that much needed boost. I was able to bring a large amount of snacks, then bring enough to the build site each day to share with the team.

If there was one thing you could bring back home from Rwanda or the build, what would it be?

Charlotte: The general attitude to life of the Rwandan people. Every person we met was kind, hardworking and generally happy and content. The country has been through so much in its recent history, and the people are determined to move forward and to always make the most of what they have. It’s a lesson that we can all learn from — you don’t need material things to be wealthy in life and we should try to find happiness in all that we do.

What impact has this trip had on your future career or personal plans?

Alex: I've made some amazing connections within the company and all of us have been exposed to lots of things we wouldn’t otherwise have had. I'm hoping this positively impact our careers in the future. When it comes to my personal plans, I already know that I want to join another build!

How did communication styles evolve as the build progressed?

Sam: To begin with we found some challenges communicating because we didn’t speak the same language as the local people, but our team members learned some Kinyarwanda, which certainly made a difference. I think it helped show that we were there to learn about Rwanda and the locals as individuals. We played music while bridge building which was also highly effective. Being able to sing and dance and have fun while working brought everyone closer together. Ultimately, I think everyone learned how to have clear communication with a range of non-technical team members, most of whom didn’t speak English. By the end of the trip, I think everyone felt comfortable going up to a local person and having a conversation.

What transferable skills are you able to take from this and use on future projects?

Ashley: As a project manager, I’ve gained invaluable experience working with this team that I will be able to carry forward in my career, on my projects and with my clients. The experience has further taught me how to navigate language barriers and adapt to different communication styles as well as the continued importance of building relationships and fine-tuning interpersonal skills while acknowledging, supporting and embracing teammates’ various experience and comfort levels. This demonstrated the value of setting clear and practical expectations that were also flexible in order to achieve a common goal.

About the interviewees

Joanne Caruso: Joanne is Jacobs’ Chief legal and Administrative Officer, based in Dallas. She served as the executive sponsor for the B2P bridge build in Kibiraro, Rwanda, and is also one of the global executive sponsors for our Prism employee network group. When she’s not working, she loves to spend time with her family (husband and two daughters), read, play, listen to music and run.

Erin James: Erin is a sustainability specialist who is no stranger to bridge builds. She got hooked on her first B2P build in 2015, which was also in Rwanda, and has since helped build three additional bridges with students and professionals from other companies in Panama, Bolivia and Uganda, making the Kibiraro bridge build her fifth in total.

Ashley Betson: Ashley is a Project Manager on our Federal and Environmental Solutions team in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. On this B2P trip she took the role as the Project Lead. Outside of work, you’ll find her running with her dog Waylon, at a dog friendly brewery, at the ski hill or in the backcountry.

Stewart Fisken: Steward is a water engineer with Jacobs working in our New York City office. On the B2P team Stewart was the Health and Safety Lead. Stewart enjoys hiking, camping, and sitting in his hammock reading a fantasy book and is currently converting a camper van.

Jim Wilson: Jim is currently the Microwave Project Manager at Jacobs based in Virginia/West Virginia, while on the B2P trip he was the logistics lead. For all of his career he has been involved in helping people connect wirelessly, and feels that building a bridge to connect people is incredibly exciting.

Daisy Carter: Daisy is an Engineering Rail Technician at Jacobs based in Birmingham, U.K. On the B2P trip, she took on the role of Communications Lead. Daisy was also chosen as Chapter Lead for the Jacobs Women’s Network and feels this enhanced her public speaking abilities and provided her opportunities to engage with others.

Tim Duncan: Tim is a Construction Engineer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On the B2P team, Tim took the role of Construction Lead. Tim says that he is grateful for having been selected for the opportunity to work with B2P to help this community in Rwanda with fellow colleagues from around the world.

Ousmane Insa: Ousmane is a Geotechnical Engineer based in Tampa, Florida. Ousmane took on the role of Support Team Member on the B2P team. Ousmane was excited to make a positive impact on this community using what he loves doing, construction.

Nicola Wilkins: Nicola is the Technical Director Solar PV, APAC based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. On the B2P trip, she took on the role of Support Team Member. Nicola was also the recipient of the 2017 Clean Energy Council Women in Renewables Scholarship.

Sam Arthurson: Sam is a Structural Engineer bases in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. His role on the B2P team was as a Support Team Member and Assistant PM or CM. Sam is a keen traveler and passionate about bringing out the best in others and making a real difference in the world.

Charlotte Wylie: Charlotte is a Bridge Engineer located in Glasgow, U.K. On the B2P trip she took on the role of Support Team Member. Charlotte is also working toward professional membership with the ICE and is a Positive Mental Health Champion, “Buddy”, and STEAM Ambassador.

Alex Tomczyk: Alex is a Graduate Engineer based in Leeds, U.K. On the B2P team, she took on the role of Support Team Member. In her time away from work, she runs her own small business, reads a lot of books and explores the countryside with her partner.

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