It took them nearly two days to reach us at our Nakhu river worksite. Their last few miles were by country bus, but most of the trip was on foot, on trails over ridge after ridge. Thirty miles from Kathmandu, the Bagmati river always forced a day-long detour whenever they needed to reach the nearest health post. When word reached them that someone was building a new kind of bridge, that was good news, so the community sent a delegation.
But there was no bridge. We were designing the WireRoad system--which we hoped would offer an inexpensive public 'mono-wire' carrier for rural transportation. The villagers pled their case but we explained that we had no idea how to adapt this technology to be a bridge.
When the villagers appeared a second time, it was clear that we needed to pay attention. A bridge was what they really needed, and the WireRoad should wait its turn.
For 18 months we induced every engineer we met to visit the Nakhu worksite, asking them for suggestions as we experimented. The villagers, by then accustomed to the multi-day round trip, said finally that the design was 'good enough' and asked to have it installed. They insisted that the experimental carriage, cut and welded dozens of times, be theirs--no need for a new copy. They knew it well.
The word of that first bridge spread like ripples from a pebble dropped in water. Soon other villagers in the region came to see it, then came to us asking for the same.
In a few years the core technology was settled, and today 38 have been constructed. The market did speak.
We eventually returned to that original WireRoad project and completed a working model, but social unrest at the time prevented any significant infrastructure construction. Here is what that system looked like:
These 'locomotives' are being adapted for use in the banana farms of the world.
That's where this technology originated that now appears in Nepal's WireBridges.
In two weeks the Museum of Science in Boston will complete a short video about the summer 2013 upgrade of a WireBridge in Nepal. As we reported last time, a remarkable series of events caused this village's WireBridge to be repaired:
And it is no surprise that what these gifts brought to these children was ... 'health, education, and hope'. In the next report we will post a link to this beautiful video. For now, here is the trail to school--and the river now bridged:
In July a repair team from VillageTech Solutions travelled in the middle of the monsoon to a village in Nawalparasi, Nepal to repair a WireBridge built eight years ago. A photographer friend went along and captured moments of this difficult journey (3 days to cover what would be less that one day in the dry season). This restoration trip was inspired by a Colorado STEM magnet school's 4th grade class. They had studied the construction of WireBridges (TarPul) in a module provided by Boston's Museum of Science in their Engineering is Elementary series. The students thought so highly of these bridges that they organized their own fundraiser, which provided the seed capital for this repair trip.
Approximately 60 students use this WireBridge to reach their school, but of course the villagers benefit as well, being able to get to their fields across the river safely. VTS provided drawing materials, which the students used to illustrate a view of their world--the homes, school, river--and TarPul.
The cost to build and to maintain a bridge serving the entire community is about the same as we pay for a personal vehicle: $22,000 to 25,000 to build, about $ 3,000 for a major overhaul, and then about $600/year to maintain. Until the local government is willing and able to provide these maintenance funds, the villagers will depend upon us to keep the wheels turning. VTS is working with local social entrepreneurs to persuade the government to take responsibility for maintenance so that our efforts can be on construction of bridges to serve isolated communities.