On Sunday, March 6, hundreds of members of the Ti Peligre community flocked from a lively church service to the banks of the Thomonde River to celebrate the construction of a life-saving bridge.
Until yesterday, the river was more often than not a source of danger to the 5,000 members of Ti Peligre, located approximately 30 miles northeast of the Central Plateau’s largest city, Mirebalais. The remote mountain village is right off of a rough road, and squeezed between the Thomonde and Feliciane Rivers. When the two rivers swell during the rainy season, between March and November, Ti Peligre transforms into a remote island.
Because the rivers are frequently too dangerous to cross, the inhabitants of Ti Peligre are isolated from the rest of the Central Plateau for almost eight months of the year, and cut off from access to health clinics, schools and markets. While the river provides fertile land to grow sugar cane and opportunity to wash, members of the community have been swept away trying to reach a doctor, and children have perished merely trying to get to school. Since the end of 2009 alone, three children have been lost to the river.
Alongside community members, Partners In Health/Zanmi Lasante staff joined the professors and students from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) who designed, funded and helped community workers build the pedestrian bridge just shy of 200 feet. The occasion was marked with songs, sketches, and speeches in the shadow of the new infrastructure that now allows, people, motorbikes, horses and livestock to cross, thereby restoring year-round access to critical services.
In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, Virginia Tech teamed up with PIH/ZL to start an internship program for Haitian students at their university. While American civil engineering students from Virginia Tech began designing plans for the bridge in Ti Peligre, 14 Haitian students have been given the opportunity to pursue studies at Virginia Tech, and have become important members of the Blacksburg, VA community. PIH hopes to engage the Haitian interns upon return and to help them use their new technical and linguistic skills for future project management in Haiti.