Build Bridges for Health, Education & Hope - Nepal

May 30, 2014

How change happens

On Monday Hou In Cheong and Jialin Ye fly in from the University of Illinois to volunteer their engineering skills for eight weeks on VTS' SafaPani (arsenic-free water) project. Over the next ten days another eleven or more volunteers arrive to assist with SafaPani and Looma, a computer/projector/sound system/webcam-in-a-box that will bring the world (a world of content) to any school, anywhere...including some schools served by VTS' WireBridges.

The story of VTS is in this attached PDF. We ask skilled volunteers to solve major problems, and if successful make the results available to the people who need them. That's how the WireBridge was created.

Many hands built the WireBridges. The design works well--it is simple, inexpensive, and carries passengers safely. The team that built the 38 WireBridges in Nepal still exists, and can build more and maintain them.

But the story isn't over. Maintenance for the WireBridges is possible only if the repair team can be paid--so a major (and we hope our final) development challenge is to persuade the government to allocate the funds for proper annual maintenance. A WireBridge costs about the same as a modest auto ($20-25,000), and the annual repair costs are about the same as for a car-around $600.

See below the story of VTS as told by Barbara Wood of the Almanac:

Feb 27, 2014

Who Asked for that Bridge?

David and Haydi on tandem locomotive
David and Haydi on tandem locomotive

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.

Nov 27, 2013

What does your gift mean to a village child?

The river and the WireBridge
The river and the WireBridge

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:

  1. in 2003 TheTech awarded the Economic Development prize to EcoSystems for the WireBridges
  2. so this project came to the attention of the Museum of Science who
  3. proposed an Engineering is Elementary learning module about building 'TarPul' in Nepal, so then
  4. in 2013 a 4th grade class in Northglenn, CO studied WireBridge construction and decided
  5. to have a fundraiser to build another bridge, and sent $426 to VillageTech, which
  6. was supplemented by a grant from the Woodside/Portola Valley Rotary club, permitting
  7. a team to go to a rural village in mid-monsoon and fix their bridge, all of this captured on video which
  8. the MoS has now edited into an engaging video, narrated by two village children.

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:

Drawing materials for students
Drawing materials for students
homemade map: home, trail, bridge and school
homemade map: home, trail, bridge and school
Aug 26, 2013

STEM 4th Graders WireBridge Restored

Some village students at the crossing
Some village students at the crossing

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.

VTS repair crew with tools and lunch under shelter
VTS repair crew with tools and lunch under shelter
Prem re-tensions the WireBridge
Prem re-tensions the WireBridge's wires
Village mom
Village mom's oversee repair work
Going to school
Going to school
Thanks to STEM Magnet school kids
Thanks to STEM Magnet school kids
May 9, 2013

STEM 4th Graders Lead Nepal WireBridge Restoration

STEM (CO) kids help others in Nepal get to school
STEM (CO) kids help others in Nepal get to school

Since 1998 38 WireBridges have been built in Nepal, and well over 3,000,000 passengers have made their way safely to their destination--with no reported injuries. The WireBridges make it practical for many kids to get to school, where otherwise attendence is dangerous, exhausting, or simply not allowed. Over the years a few WireBridges have been replaced by (more expensive) suspended bridges, and a few were destroyed by increasingly violent floods, but 33 remain.

Like all vehicles, these WireBridges need periodic maintenance. During Nepal's years of conflict it was not safe to return to the bridge sites, but now access is possible. Conditions are improving as the population becomes educated and more experienced with self-government, but local communities and the central authorities are not yet ready to maintain the equipment. Our continued interest and support makes a big difference as they develop.

Fourth grade students at the STEM Magnet Lab School in Northglenn, Colorado decided to help. Their message is attached. Our colleagues in Nepal, Village Solutions (VS), can restore the WireBridges. VS have nominated the WireBridge at Gothdanda in Nawalparasi District, where some 40-60 students want to use this bridge.

Restoring the Gothdanda bridge will cost about $3,700. About $3,300 is needed to supplement the STEM students' contribution. With help, we can put this WireBridge back in operation before the monsoon begins in mid-June.

Here is the message from VS: "Thank you for your interest for the repair and maintenance of Tarpul that were built several years before. We have taken [selected] the wire bridge from Gothdanda, Nawalparasi. Due to the lack of repair this wire bridge is not running now and people have to walk two hours to cross the river. Similarly, the school going children have to walk the same distance and takes more hours to go on the other side of the river for their school. The school's name is Bulingtar and 10-15 students used to attend school in 2002. So now the number have gone up to 40-60. There are about 60-70 households."

On the way to Bulingtar school
On the way to Bulingtar school


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Project Leader

David Sowerwine

Managing Director
Menlo Park, California United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Build Bridges for Health, Education & Hope - Nepal