Release Date: April 22, 2015
BUFFALO, N.Y. – In rural Kenya, a footbridge can mean the difference between life and death.
Villagers seeking medical care, schooling or other necessities often must walk across swift-moving rivers. This can be dangerous, especially during the rainy season. Some drown. Others are killed by crocodiles or hippopotamuses.
For nearly 20 years, Harmon Parker has worked to eradicate this problem. The Kentucky native founded Bridging the Gap Africa, a nonprofit that has built dozens of walking bridges across the African nation.
Parker will visit the University at Buffalo this week to speak about his experiences and provide assistance to a team of civil engineering students that plans to build a bridge in Kenya through his organization.
The event is free and open to the public. It will take place Thursday, April 23, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Room 140, Ketter Hall on North Campus. (Ketter is building No. 36 on this map: http://bit.ly/1DTCNEV.)
Parker learned how to lay bricks as a teenager and eventually became an expert mason. He applied those skills as a missionary in Africa where, during the 1990s, he participated in his first bridge build. He has been building bridges ever since.
“We in the developed world, we take bridges for granted,” Parker told a TEDx audience in 2011. “Rivers prevent children from going to school. Rivers prevent people from life-saving clinics… I cannot overstate the need for footbridges around the world.”
The UB students are working under the guidance of Jerome “Jerry” O’Connor, adjunct professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering and executive director of UB’s Institute of Bridge Engineering.
They designed a bridge to cross a river in Sultan Hamud, which is roughly 65 miles from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The students plan to travel to Kenya to help build it.
They are raising money to buy materials needed for the bridge and to cover some of their travel expenses. For more information, visit their Indiegogo webpage: http://igg.me/at/UBBridge/x/10403156.