A Footbridge for Panamanian Rice Farmers

Several hundred kilometers outside of Panama City, Panama, along the Rio Grande, a small community of about 200 rice farmers resides. The river is a dominant fixture in the village, one through which residents navigate on a daily basis. In times of heavy rain, however, the river becomes impossible to pass, trapping community members on either side, forcing them to wait—and sometimes sleep on the other side—until it is safe to cross again.

For years, the locals were told a bridge would be built, but to no avail.

When Katie (Kadlubak) Evenson ’99, who enjoys taking part in outdoor activities, heard that her company, Parsons—a global engineering, construction, technical, and professional services firm —was partnering with the nonprofit Bridges to Prosperity to construct a bridge for the community, she was eager to get involved.

“I think a bridge will make a huge impact for the community and become a part of their day-to-day lives, as opposed to how it had been with always just having to deal with getting wet and being unsafe,” she said.

Evenson, a vice president with Parsons on rotation in the Internal Audit department, spent nine days in summer 2017 with an 11-member team of coworkers from across the company, building a 47-meter suspension footbridge that enabled the community of rice farmers to safely access schools and healthcare facilities.

“We did everything from erecting the scaffolding to putting up the steel towers to nailing down the deck,” she said. “Although we all brought different backgrounds to the project, we all got our hands dirty doing everything.”

When she arrived in Panama, Evenson was moved by the sight of community members coming down to the river, pausing to take off their shoes, and making the trek across the river. She heard stories of people drowning and animals being washed away—risks that would be minimized with the construction of a safe footbridge.

“Every day, we would see a group of kids come down the hill and cross the (river). It was just what they knew,” she said. “So for the kids who grow up with this new bridge, the difficulty of crossing the river will only be a faint memory.”

Evenson has worked for Parsons since she graduated from Lehigh, starting as an environmental scientist. Over time, she served in various roles, including project management, business development, and operations. She also spent a few years working in the Middle East. In her current position with Internal Audit, she looks at the elements of the highest risks across the company and evaluates whether the company’s largest and most technically complex projects satisfy regulatory and contractual requirements and best practices.

“Parsons is a global engineering company. We are always engaged in projects, first-of-a-kind projects, signature projects, or in meeting whatever challenges our customers need addressed,” Evenson said. “To be able to step back and take the opportunity to give back to the world and to do good, is something that I don’t think you should ever pass up.”

—Klaudia Jazwinska ’18

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