Bridges to Prosperity Project
Population: 14,000 people
Expected Traffic: 400 people per day
Footbridge Type: Suspended
Span: 45m (147.6ft)
Sponsors: Rotary Foundation, Rotary Club of Gloucester, Virginia
Dessie, with a population of over 200,000, is a city with the feel of a rural town. The people are mixture of farmers (mainly teff and wheat), businessmen, and daily workers.
For three months of every year, a section of the city and its residents had to make a one hour detour by foot to reach schools, clinics, markets, and work. Yet, during the dry season, these things were mere minutes away. The other choice was to walk four miles around the river. Reoccurring deaths at such crossings is normal in this land of few or no bridges. In 2003 several small children risked crossing on their way to school. They all died, causing this city to join together in grief to find a way to prevent such deaths in the future.
When B2P first arrived in December 2003 to survey this river, a small stream trickled where the flood roars during the wet season. A blind schoolteacher greeted us upon our arrival and tapped with his cane across the stream and stones to his home, only to return later with two Eder members in tow. An Eder is a voluntary group whose members contribute time and money towards assisting those in the community in need, such as providing school tuition for orphans, medicines for the sick, and comfort for the elderly. Much like Rotarians, Eders are those that have either a little extra money, or time to give to their communities.
Ato Tekleyesus, the director of the school (grades 1 to 8) on the town side of the Desso River, expressed his concern for the children whom are denied education for three months of every year. He told us about the Eder group that helps some 50 orphans and poor children who attend his school. He said the Eders assist by paying these children’s school fees ($1.25 per student per year!) and by providing their exercise books. He also expressed concern about the lack of access to the only high school, which was on the other side of the river as well.
Eder members, Ato Adem Mohammed (Eder Chairman) and Ato Kasa Ali Mohammed, had no hesitation in telling us that they would do anything to help construct a bridge at the chosen location, including assuring us that they would provide and contribute all of the labor, both skilled and unskilled. During our meeting with the Eders, a problem of providing the local materials was discussed. In rural areas, sand, rock and stone are typically plentiful at a river. But here, in the city, all such materials had long since been used in the construction of their homes. When asked if the community would rather contribute labor or money, the Eder members were unanimous that labor would be the preferable contribution. Labor exists in abundance here, but cash is very difficult to come by. After all, we are talking about local workers that earn only $1-2 per day. Yet, the Eders did not hesitate. Despite the difficulty in raising cash, the Eder members promised to purchase and deliver all of the sand, gravel and stone as well. At the close of the meetings, the community signed and stamped a letter promising all of the above. The deal was done, a new partnership forged. It was time for everyone to go to work.