I mentioned in my last post that I went to Panama. So now for a little who, what, where, when and why of building a pedestrian suspension bridge!
Who: Meet the team!
We were 11 strangers from around the globe. We worked for the transportation business group in the same company, all of us with different backgrounds; different levels of experience; different specialties. But we had one common goal. Here’s a glimpse of why I liked them so much!
Reece was our project manager, and he never sat down except to eat and maybe take this picture. He saved me with a much-needed power bar one day; and we learned that even the hungriest of dogs don’t like broccoli!
Kim was our safety manager and made sure we were well-protected. I will always remember our time at Leticia’s house (story below)!
Tomas was our construction manager. He was one of the first people on the team I met, and the first thing he asked me, while being super helpful at the airport was “What’s this about you and healthy eating?”.
Luisa, strong and powerful…working non-stop, had the sweetest voice and the greatest laugh. I loved getting to know her better in San Blas!
Karen was hilarious and witty…when I could understand her! I loved her Manchester tart accent, and she taught us Americans good ole proper English! And we survived the road to San Blas!
Emily was also hilarious and witty…when I could understand her! Loved her Australian accent, and she saved me with countless packets of Emergen-C, a pillow, and a blanket. Plus the look of shock on her face when I told her my age made me feel good!
Robert was kind and generous, always putting others first; and I enjoyed hearing his stories and talking about healthy eating!
Haluk just learned Spanish prior to arriving in Panama, and he did awesome! I enjoyed all of our conversations about yummy Mediterranean food!
Blake was always considerate with a good head on his shoulders! He had the drone that took the amazing aerial footage; and he ate a lot of peanut butter!
Eric was your modern day Captain America…there was nothing he couldn’t do or wouldn’t do! We had a great time exploring Casco Viejo and catching up on our World Cup games! Also my Emergen-C supplier!
Tessa was our program manager, and made sure everything ran smoothly…a task much more complicated than it sounds. And thanks to her, we were well prepared! I had a great time getting to know her!
Andrew was the videographer who did the incredible documentary. He also had a great accent! It was fun working with him and Tessa on the community interviews. He said I had a good eye for taking photos…I’ll take it!
We came to Panama as unique strangers, became a team while we were there, and left as friends!
What: Build a bridge!
Build a bridge…make a difference. This bridge would provide safe access for community residents to healthcare, jobs, schools and markets. Our mission as we worked alongside the local community: build a 45-meter pedestrian suspension bridge with a focus on raising the towers, hanging the suspension cables, and installing the decking and fencing.
Where: Rural Panama!
The bridge would connect the communities of La Conga and La Florida, about an 1.5 hour drive from Panama City. La Conga is an agricultural community that has about 200 residents, while La Florida was much smaller (although slightly more affluent).
When: Summer time!
We arrived in Panama at the end of June, which was the end of the dry season, and completed the bridge in 6.5 days.
Why: For the community!
The Rio Trinidad divides the two communities, making it extremely dangerous to cross when it rains. Due to rising water levels during the rainy season, residents would have to walk 2 hours out of their way to bypass the river just to buy food, go to work or school, or to receive health care. A pedestrian suspension bridge provides safe access! So simple, right?
Our “Abuelita” Felicita has lived in La Conga all of her life. This is where she raised her family. And this is where she lost one of her sons in the Rio Trinidad. While he was trying to cross, a strong current swept him off of his horse into the river and he drowned. He was 50 years old. To Felicita, this bridge means no more worrying. And 5 days before her 90th birthday, Felicita was crossing the bridge over the river that took her son’s life.
Imagine if your kids had to cross a river to get to school every day. Imagine if getting to the doctor was more treacherous than the ailment to be treated. Imagine if buying a few little groceries was a big ordeal. But then imagine if a bridge was built…and Maria Luisa, who opened her house to a bunch of strangers and organized the women of the community to cook day and night, was offered a job at the municipality on the OTHER SIDE of the river, and would now be able to help contribute to her family’s income. Just imagine…
Although our team had a mission, our expertise and knowledge came in handy beyond building a bridge.
One day I didn’t feel so good, and was taking it easy up at the house where we ate our meals. I was getting restless and thought “OK, either I go to the camp site to grab a few things and return to the house, or I go to the bridge site and work”. I really wasn’t sure what to do…it was quiet at the house and I thought it would be a perfect time to give away some clothes and toys. But I also thought I better pull my weight around here, or my team will think I’m a slacker. Camp site won out, and I began walking up the hill. Then I stopped, and stood still for a few minutes. I don’t know why I was so indecisive as to what to do. Immediately, I turned around and started walking to the bridge site.
When I got there, I started to help Robert and Haluk with measuring cables. Shortly there after, a man came rushing over asking if there was somebody who knew how to give a shot to his sick wife. I ran to grab Kim our safety manager and we followed this man to his house, walking as fast as we possibly could for over a mile, not sure where we were going. When we arrived, we encountered a woman crying for her daughter, who was lying in bed in extreme pain, unable to move or speak.
This was the day I met a little girl named Leticia, who must have been so worried to see her mother in this condition.
My role was interpreter as Kim assessed her condition and administered the shot. We returned the next day as 1 more shot was needed, but this time, we were greeted with music playing instead of crying! After this last shot was given, she was able to move and speak, and then wouldn’t stop talking! Leticia had told me that God sent us there to help her mom. And based on my inexplicable indecisiveness the day before, I totally agreed with her!
Even though our time was short in La Conga, our hearts were touched forever. Every member of the community had a story.
And every story became more real for us with every knot that was tied;
with every cable that was clamped;
with every board that was bolted.