Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Finally Finished!!

The bridge is officially done!  Actually, it was done quite a while ago, but I have been busy with other farming related projects since then, and have not had time to update this blog.  I apologize for that, but want you all to know that myself, as well as all of the villages in my valley, really appreciate all of your donations and support throughout this process.  The construction was finished in early February, and there are a few things that need touching up.  It is a cultural practice here in Madagascar to slaughter a cow and host a party when a large construction project (house, school, etc.) is finished, and we will do just this in the end of May.  The 5 villages involved in the building process will chip in and purchase a cow and provide rice, and I am trying to find some entertainment for the party.  Before the party we still need to put some finish on the wooden parts of the bridge, clean up the surrounding area a bit, plant a few trees, and eventually the park staff plans to improve the trails on either side of the bridge. 

We are all very happy with the results and design of the bridge, and the people in my village now enjoy strolling down to the river just to hang out around the bridge and take in the views from on top of such a nice structure.  This is the first type of structure built in the area that has inspired such strolls, and I think it's an indicator of just how pleased they are with the results. They are very proud of themselves for accomplishing such a large project, and are realizing the potential for other projects in the area. The bridge has also made the work significantly easier for the farmers this rainy season in that they no longer have to worry about only getting half a days work in due to the rain and rising water level; they are able to work through it and use the bridge as a safe avenue home.  The same goes for children going to school, people going to the market, etc.  Something that used to be a big problem has turned into a non-issue, thanks to all of your help!

The last month of construction had it’s own share of challenges; the most difficult being keeping the villagers, who were beginning to transplant their ricefields, to continue to work despite their increasingly busy schedules.  However, with a little encouragement, everyone stuck it out to the very end.  Here are some more pics from the final month of work, with more to come once we finish painting the bridge.  I also promise to post pics from the party with will be help in the end of May—Thanks again for all of your donations and support, we couldn’t have done this without you! I'd like to especially thank
Alison Thieme, Andrew McBride, Angelika Young, Brent Beerly, Charlotte Danenberg, Elizabeth Beck, Erica Thumma, Courtney Lane, Gilberto Torres, James Smith, Joan Cagginello, John Gauger, Jonathan Lear, Julie and Isaac Dunham, Kelli Sterrett, Kelly and Jonathan Weiner, Kelsey McCutcheon, Kendra Broad, Kourtney Nelson, Lauren Munfa, James Rooney, Celeste Ruggierio, Lee Jelenic, March Ubaldi, Matt Rutherford, Maureen Shea, Meredith Bergman, Patricia Rooney, Christine Toomey (thanks sista!), Paul Parantala, Reed and Laura Armstrong, Robert Cummings, Robert Smith, Roseanne Meyer, Rosemarie Gimby, Rosemary Shea, Catherine Sheehan, Susan and Jim McCutcheon, Susan McDonough, Teri-OA, and Tina Maa.  I had a tremendous amount of support from Maureen Shanley of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Connecticut—I couldn’t have done this without you!  Last but not least, I’d like to thank my entire family, and especially my amazing mother, Lauretta Toomey, for all of her unwavering support, love, and for playing the role of spokeswoman for this project in the United States.   


Friday, January 4, 2013

2013 seems like a better year to finish a bridge...

The long and winding road to the bridge site...

 Happy New Year everyone!  As we say here in Madagascar, Tratra ny tombaovao!  We took a little break from bridge building to ring in the new year with friends and family, but in a few days we will begin construction in what will actually be the last few weeks of work. The work that remains consists of laying the madriers (the smaller pieces of wood)  across the stringers, building a small railing on the bridge, and building two sets of stone stairs on either sides of the bridge.  We should be able to finish this all up in the next 3 weeks or less, as long as we don't get hit by a cyclone (or run in to any of the other infinite potential problems that could occur here in Madland).  Here are some pics from the last few weeks of work--Mazotoa! Enjoy!

The villagers accepted the responsibility of carrying the stringers to the bridge site surprisingly well..

...and were pretty ecstatic when they were done with the haul.

New Malagasy fashion, cement bag shirts.

Setting the stringers.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Bridge Construction in Madland

I apologize for the delay in updates, but as you can see by the photos, we’ve been very busy here in Morarano!  We are entering the last phase of construction on the bridge, and should be done in the next few weeks.  Overall, things are going well.  As you may have guessed, constructing a bridge in rural Madagascar is no small feat, and we have run into our fare share of problems along the way.  We’ve had issues ranging from the weather, differences in opinions of the hired workers, alcohol abuse on the job, to the waning presence of the villagers (who are obligated to provide 25% of the overall cost of the bridge in terms of manual labor, ie hauling the stone bricks, gravel, sand, and any other materials needed for construction to the work site, as the construction site is quite a ways from the end of the navigable ‘road’).  There has also been a lack of participation of the contractor who designed the bridge and provided the team of skilled workers, which has led to much of the responsibility of managing the workers, the villagers, and keeping track of supplies and progress…to me!  Like I said, we have been very busy.  I have learned alot these last few months.  Not only about the construction process itself, but about project management (Malagasy style, which is much more difficult than American style…let me tell ya. Americans are born with the concept of punctuality, schedules, and foresight already ingrained in us...these concepts are still very foreign to the rural Malagasy mind.). 
Keeping the villagers motivated to work and see the project through has been the biggest challenge of all.  While they were excited by the idea of the bridge and enthusiastically agreed to fulfill their share of the work when the construction began; it is a full time job getting them to follow through with these promises.  Unlike in America, contracts here are just pieces of paper.  If you don’t follow through with something, there aren’t really any negative consequences, other than the fact that work is left unfinished.  We have had a constant cycle of meetings about the participation of the villagers throughout the process.  When the numbers drop, we hold a meeting, talk about the work that still needs to be done, and for the next week we get a strong showing of participation.  After two weeks, the numbers dwindle once again, and we must once again congregate and remind everyone that the bridge is in fact not done yet.  I work with the villagers everyday.  I help haul rocks and sand, keep people motivated, and provide lunch for everyone that shows up (which is a big deal.  We are in the hunger season right now, which means most people are only eating cassava, so a lunch of rice and beans is a treat). , I work on all levels of the project; from writing the 8 million Ariary checks to the contractor in order to purchase supplies, to facilitating meetings with the villagers, to mediating arguments between the workers, to hauling 50lb. bags of sand on my head (my neck muscles are in form—carrying things on your head is actually much easier than on your shoulder or back, no joke).   While participation of the villagers might dwindle at times, I know that everyone is still behind the project, and recognize the value of having a bridge of this quality crossing the river.  I honestly think people are impressed at how far we've come in the last few months.  The people in my region are not used to projects of this scale, and they are proud of the fact that we've accomplished what we have so far.  While it will be a relief and a victory for all of us when the bridge is completed, it will also be a little sad for me.  I have become close to a lot of the bridge workers, as well as villagers that I might not have otherwise been in contact with so frequently if it hadn’t been for this project.  I will really miss working with them everyday.  

Once again, thank you all so much for your support!  Enjoy the pictures! Amin’ny manaraka koa! (Until next time!)
Hauling bags full of sand across the river in attempts to dam off the area for the foundation of the first pillar...

Foundation finished on the east side, now working on the 2nd pillar in the middle of the river...

Look how far we've come!

the foundations have been built, and the 4 pillars in the water are 70% done..

...now it's time to dig some holes for the foundations of the pillars on the west shore....

taking a little break....

the villagers dug this hole after hauling sand from our original site became too tiresome...turns out there is tons of sand a few meters below the surface of the land near the bridge site...

some workers carrying the 110lb bags of cement to the work site...

..working on the foundation of the final pillar on the west shore..

...these are the longrines which will provide the base of the bridge....they are ridiculously heavy, and need to be hauled to the bridge site....we're still trying to figure out if we can use someone's cows to help haul them...either that or we need about 10 men per tree

Vololo, one of our female rock workers breaking up gravel to mix with the cement..

it's not all hard work...

moving rocks in a slightly damed area downstream of the work site in an attempt to get the river level to drop and make work a little easier..(and yes, this did actually make a difference)

the villagers filling sacks with sand.  These sacks are used to dam off work areas, as well as proved a trail across the river to make the transport of materials easier

one of the villagers helping out with lunch preparation...
Me with the 2 mason's helpers.  They are extremely entertaining to work with.