UBC Okanagan engineering student volunteers to build bridge in Haiti
A punishing climate, a language barrier, inexperienced local crews and a remote area of Haiti weren’t going to stop a group of Canadians from finishing the job they had set out to accomplish.
Among the group was fourth-year UBC Okanagan civil engineering student Rick George.
The Canadians were in Haiti last month to build a 150-foot bridge across a river separating two neighbouring communities. The initiative was funded by two Western Canadian philanthropists.
With eight-years of construction experience, George was responsible for supervising a group of local workers handling the rebar and bolting of the bridge’s four sections and the laying of the deck. Using the skills he picked up in the classroom and his construction background, George played an important role in the project.
“We were working closely with a firm back in Canada, but I was the on-the-ground technical coordinator” says George. “There were seven Canadians in the group and we were joined by 22 local workers who had never built a bridge before.”
The biggest challenges, says George, were communication and remoteness.
“We were five hours from the nearest store, so when something went wrong, we needed to problem-solve with the resources we had on hand.”
That included, using big rollers and the heavy equipment on site to move the bridge sections in place since a crane could not access the remote location.
After three arduous weeks, the bridge was completed. Residents from one community were able to cross the river safely on their way to school or to visit the region’s only health care facility.
This wasn’t George’s first experience overseas. Following high school, he travelled to Kenya with a group to construct a building. He says these experiences have inspired him to do more.
“There are so many areas in the world that could use just a little help” says George. “And I hope after I graduate that I can use my experience and education to lend a hand.”
George will graduate from the School of Engineering this spring, but in the meantime is catching up on the work he missed while in Haiti.
“I was fortunate that my professors were able to move some assignments around so I have been able to make up what I have missed” says George.