Build Bridges for Health, Education & Hope - Nepal

by VillageTech Solutions (VTS) Site Visit Verified

The 38 WireBridges built in Nepal from 1998 through 2011 provided more than three million safe trips over its rivers for schoolchildren and adults. Given the pre-bridge statistics, the gifts that funded these bridges prevented a number of deaths, and of course made many lives better.

The WireBridge project is now coming to an end. The government has an ambitious program which has installed suspended bridges throughout the country, replacing the WireBridges and other cable crossings.

A few WireBridges--perhaps two or three--will continue to operate for a few years until they in turn are replaced by suspended bridges. We will refurbish each of these bridges with new parts, and at the same time train the local people to perform this 'upgrade'. One spare set of parts will be stored for them, giving them at least 3-4 years of service. They will also have the design and assembly drawings in the unlikely case that they want to order another set it the future.

We in VillageTech Solutions are now focusing on SafaPani—an affordable, effective, reliable way to get arsenic out of drinking water, and on Looma, an interactive A/V system for any school in the world (now posted on GlobalGiving).

On behalf of the many Nepalese children and parents, and our many volunteers who make this program successful, we wish to thank – and cheer – our supporters. Job well done!


If you like what we do, please join us at

Will they cross to safety?
Will they cross to safety?

In the previous Report, I described the challenge facing any of us who seek to help in developing countries by assisting the people to obtain needed hardware or infrastructure--with an emphasis on Nepal, home of the WireBridges.

Behind both the poverty and the difficulty the people face in maintaining 'things', especially things the community shares in common, very often lies the problem of trust. Or more specifically, the lack of trust.

An essential must-read for our volunteers in Nepal has been the book "Trust", by Francis Fukuyama. Nepal itself may never have been mentioned in this book. But the reasons for Nepal's poverty and on-going inability to have good governance are laid out clearly.

If a people lack trust--don't believe the rules of society are fair, don't believe that basically everyone will follow the rules, then they rarely will collaborate to solve problems that they share in common: water supply, sanitation, schools, contract enforcement, river crossings...

In March I shall be in Nepal for several weeks. I hope to meet with the few government individuals who have the authority to provide the funds to maintain the 31 WireBridges that you and many other individuals and governments built.

If the Government decision is positive then we shall ask our many friends to help fund the immediate rehabilitation of all the WireBridges, and the re-establishment of good service for the rural people.

If not, then our remaining funds that are tied to the WireBridges will be used to refurbish as many as possible--perhaps four or five--and our support for the WireBridge program will end.

Village Solutions team repairs trolleys
Village Solutions team repairs trolleys

All of us hope that our contributions of time, skills and cash will make a lasting, positive impact--whatever the project.

For infrastructure such as computers or WireBridges, we hope that so long as the investment is relevant (within its normal service life~and not yet replaced by a better solution), the beneficiaries will maintain the device/structure so that it continues to serve them.

In practice, that is unrealistic. It is a major challenge to ensure long-term service, and coincidentally Rotary is now making it a condition for their big 'Global Grants' that there be a sustainability solution built into the proposal.

We know one example in Nepal where this seems to have been achieved. Nepal Youth Foundation (also a GG member) has built more than a dozen 'Nutritional Rehabilitation Homes'. And, what is equally remarkable, they concluded an agreement with the Nepal government under which the government assumes full fiscal responsibility for the homes over several years. It is working.

Our hope is that the Nepal government will accept fiscal responsibility for the WireBridges in the same way. Actual repair and maintenance services have been assured until now by the Nepal team whom we trained under EcoSystems.

Our focus now will be on arranging for long-term local support. When/as local government makes this commitment, then we look to Global Giving, Rotary and other supporters to bring the entire network of WireBridges back to full service.

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:

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.


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Organization Information

VillageTech Solutions (VTS)

Location: Menlo Park, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
David Sowerwine
Project Leader:
David Sowerwine
Managing Director
Menlo Park, California United States

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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