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B2P Panama Blog

This summer, Parsons—in partnership with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P)—is sending an 11 member multinational team to build a new footbridge for a small community in Panama

Follow the team’s adventures here! The team’s communications manager will share information about the people they meet, the milestones they accomplish, and the challenges they overcome. Post any questions or words of support on Parsons’ Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn pages. The team will read your comments in between their scaffold building and cable hoisting! #B2PPanama

August 8, 2017: Bleeding Blue

After two weeks of full-time bonding with the Parsons team, the Bridges to Prosperity staff, and the community of Rio Grande, we are now connected on so many different levels. This is not only a long-term partnership, but a strong bond that is full of timeless memories.

In the words of our Construction Manager, "We have some good news and some bad news." The bad news was never truly bad, except for now that we have to say "hasta la vista" to the people of Rio Grande, Panama. The good news today is that we finished the Rio Grande Suspension Bridge ahead of schedule, with no injuries, and most importantly, impacted people for generations to come.

As each of us returns to our homes with hearts full of joy, plans of returning to Rio Grande already rumble in our heads. We would love to go back and visit the beautiful masterpiece we created with our own bare hands, after long hours of demanding physical heavy labor. Some of us also hope to bring our families to experience the hospitality, kindness, and love of the Rio Grande community.

"Let's take a moment to express gratitude."

We found this sign at a nearby town in Panama, and after this experience, the team will be forever grateful. We arrived in Panama with the goal of changing people's lives, but didn't realize our lives were about to change as well. We all put our heart into the Rio Grande Bridge, and the best reward is to know that we made a positive impact in people's lives. Seeing the smiles of so many community members—adults and children, who now see a brighter future thanks to this project—is the best satisfaction.

Thank you all for following along with us on this blog as we proudly represented Parsons with Bridges to Prosperity on this impactful build for the Rio Grande community.

August 7, 2017: Bleeding Blue

We completed the bridge on Thursday afternoon—the banner was hung, our tools were put away, and the site was cleaned up. Friday morning we pulled up to the site for the bridge inauguration, and to our surprise, a lot had been done by the community. The anchor blocks and concrete pedestals were painted blue. A second banner was hung. Balloons were hung along the bridge span. Flowers were placed in the towers. They have been waiting a very long time for this moment.

Our hearts became even more full as we experienced the inauguration ceremony. The schoolchildren performed dances in their national attire, speeches were given, poems were read, and Parsons and B2P team members were presented with plaques. Everyone truly enjoyed celebrating the completion of the bridge, celebrating the friendships and experiences that had been created and the future opportunities that have opened up.

Everyone is very proud of the work that was accomplished—it was a true collaboration between Parsons, Bridges to Prosperity, and the community of Rio Grande, Panama.

August 3, 2017: Excitement all Around

The finishing touches have been made, the banner has been raised, and we are all excited for the bridge inauguration tomorrow. In celebration of the inauguration, the town is preparing a feast for all to enjoy. We all—Parsons, B2P, and the community—have worked hard for this moment.

Today, we had a few glimpses into what to expect tomorrow. One of the older men from the community made his way down to the site—escorted by a nice woman from the community who has been working with us every day—and he crossed the bridge. Next, the school teacher brought her class, and all of the school children walked across the bridge together. In addition to crossing the bridge, the children came with garbage bags to clean up around the community in preparation for the inauguration party.

The bridge is beautiful. A lot of love, sweat, tears (well, maybe just tears of joy), and bug bites have gone into building this bridge. We are all proud of the work that has been done, the friendships we have made, and most of all, the impact we made on this community.

July 31, 2017: Water to the Waist

Today, we all connected first-hand with the reason we are all here. Our three vehicles approached the river we drive across every morning and several times throughout the day. We all had Sunday off so we were well-rested and ready to jump into our day. Instead, we had to jump into the river.

It had rained a lot the night before and the river was too deep to get a vehicle across safely. We had to walk across the river—like the community members have been doing for generations—and get sopping wet. We did what we had to do. We buddied up, linked arms, and made our way across. We dumped the water out of our boots on the other side, and then went on with our day doing what we needed to do—just like the community members do day in and day out.

If that wasn’t enough to let the impact of what we are doing set in, seeing a mother with her daughter on her shoulders pass me and head to the river sure impacted me. How was she going to cross the river? I carry my daughters like that on my shoulders all the time, but certainly not to cross a river with fast moving water coming up to my waist. I watched closely as another community member on a horse who was just crossing turned around and brought the toddler back across. The mother walked across on her own, drenching her pretty dress.

In a few days when we finish the bridge, that mother will not have the same dilemma. In fact, her daughter will probably grow up not remembering the days before the footbridge existed and will hear stories from her elders starting with, “Well when I was a kid, we didn’t have a bridge to get across the river…”

Every day we meet different milestones toward  completing this bridge, but we are all looking forward to the final milestone of completing this bridge for the community

July 30, 2017: Safety in the Jungle

We finished day six at the jobsite. It's been a wonderful example of Parsons employees working closely with B2P local representatives and the local community to accomplish great things.

This combined team demonstrates every day that communication, coordination, and cooperation are still the three C's of success in any operation. Together, we have faced obstacles, overcome what others might consider insurmountable odds, and made tremendous progress. All without taking unnecessary risks.

The local community pitches in to help wherever they can, complete with hard hats and safety vests. They wear gloves when handling materials and we make sure that they have the appropriate footwear. Our Parsons team watches out for one another in a manner that would be impressive on any jobsite anywhere in the world. Working with this team is a safety managers dream. Before this trip, I would've thought it unimaginable that 11 Parsons employees from all over the world and different business units could come together with a singular focus, keeping safety at the forefront of everything we do—but it is clear that we all share the same core values.

What this week first week has demonstrated is that Parsons' core value of safety is truly taught and expected of everyone at Parsons. Some of our team members have learned to use tools like grinders, saws, and fall protection equipment. Those who expressed an interest took training in fall protection and scaffolds, then worked off of 8- or 10-meter scaffolds for the first time ever.

The enthusiasm is infectious and it is abundantly obvious that our team is having a lot of fun, safely.

July 28, 2017: Habits of Highly Effective Teams

“Do we want Hawaiian or Pepperoni? Vegetarian? Gluten Free? She only wants one slice. He didn’t bring cash. It needs to have olives!” Without proper teamwork, communication, and leadership, a task as simple as ordering pizza can become a frustrating exercise.

Now instead of ordering a pizza, it’s a bridge, a suspension footbridge. A bridge that will be crossed by children to get to school and by rice farmers to get to their fields. When the rain is strong and the water level is high, you can see just how urgently the community needs a safe way to cross the river.

With such an important task in such a short time frame, it is critical that everyone works together. There have been times when the team has disagreed on how to complete a task or team logistics, but what we do share is a set of methods and ways of thinking that have fostered an incredible team environment. We have had to face challenges from day one that could have resulted in setbacks to the work schedule, but we have worked together to find solutions and to build a strong level of trust within the team. Following is a list of the eight key habits the team has adopted, which have fostered a high-performing team environment that can be applied to any team project:

  1. Communicating a common goal.

    On the first day, our project manager set the goal for the two weeks—to build the bridge and to build it safely. This has become our mantra and the focus of every task for the build. We know it is everyone’s responsibility to note safety hazards, remind others to always be wearing the proper personal protective equipment, as well as to be cautious in every aspect of the job.

  2. Knowing everyone’s name and their realm of expertise.

    When we first arrived in Panama City, everyone introduced themselves, what they did, and where they were from. Following the initial meeting, we had a 5-hour drive to the site where we really got to know our team on a more personal level, which allowed everyone to feel more comfortable around each other.

  3. Recognizing your own limitations and other team members’ talents.

    With the wide range of expertise and experience on the team, everyone has an area where they can learn and where they can teach. By recognizing this on the jobsite, everyone can feel comfortable asking for help or offering training.

  4. Noticing efforts and contributions of others.

    This is a big one. When you are living and working with a group of people for two weeks, it is important to maintain a friendly environment. By noticing individual efforts and contributions, you create a feedback loop that not only recognizes positive actions, but encourages people to continue finding ways to contribute. After each build day, the construction manager reviews what was done well, as well as areas for improvement.

  5. No blaming, no criticizing, no complaining.

    These are things that can seem small but can unknowingly create a toxic work environment. Approaching the good, the bad, and the ugly with a positive attitude is key to moving forward and maintaining a comfortable environment where people can learn and grow.

  6. Going in with the attitude that every challenge has a solution.

    This goes hand-in-hand with #5. Focusing on finding a solution rather than on the setbacks allows the team to put their creative skills to the test.

  7. Taking time for breaks.

    We're working in very hot and humid conditions. Our team members ensure that we have plenty of water, ice, coolers, and proper lunch breaks so we do not get overexerted in these extreme tropical conditions. Our managers often remind people to take breaks if they are getting caught up in their task. This allows time to regroup, refocus, and for key announcements to be made.

  8. Tracking progress and celebrating what has been accomplished.

    At the end of each day the program manager, safety manager, and construction manager review the construction progress. After a hard day of work, it helps to know that the teams’ efforts have been effective in moving the work schedule forward.  

Through a group of incredibly talented people sharing ideas, challenging ideas, and working together toward a common goal, we have built a strong environment to overcome whatever comes our way.

July 24, 2017: Scaffolding!

We had an exciting commute to work today—we forged a river in our vehicles to get to our jobsite. All day it was evident how much this bridge is going to impact the community for the better. Kids were crossing to get to their bus stops, adults were crossing to get their daily jobs done, back-and-forth all day—and the river was far from its highest. Our team—the Parsons employees, the B2P employees, and the Panamanian masons—are so motivated to accomplish this important project.

Today was all about scaffolding. We had to erect the scaffolding on both sides of the river, so we had people working at heights, cutting wires with grinders, carrying scaffolding parts from here to there. Tomorrow we start erecting the towers. Step-by-step it will all start to come together.

July 22, 2017: We Arrived!

Today, the team arrived in Panama City. Since we all come from different departments and locations, many of us were meeting each other for the first time and putting faces to the voices we have been talking to for the last month. In a stroke of good luck to start the trip, everyone arrived safely and we were able to account for all our bags. Our first night was spent at a Courtyard Marriott—and it looks remarkably similar to every other Courtyard I’ve been at, so I am looking forward to getting to a place a bit less familiar.

As the team got to talking, we discussed how excited we are to build this bridge and use different tools and methods for construction. We are also looking forward to the new challenges we will be facing and the wonderful people we’ll meet along the way. As our Construction Manager put it, he’s “most excited about meeting the people whose lives we are positively affecting.”

Some of the things we’re nervous about….snakes, scorpions, and sunburns!

July 21, 2017: Packing. Prepping. Panama.

Panama…..Pana-ma-a-a….Van Halen has been running though my head non-stop these last few weeks—the day is almost here! The Parsons B2P build in Panama starts this weekend. Our team was finalized about a month ago, and we’ve been working hard ever since to prepare. We’re not all bridge builders by trade, but we all will bring our unique and diverse talents to the table (or I guess I should say ‘to the river’) and give it our all over the course of the next couple weeks to build this bridge and help make the world just a little bit better. Meanwhile, we’re all giving hugs to loved ones and promising some cool mementos upon our return—at least I am, as I try to entice my 4- and 5-year-old daughters to behave for daddy while I’m gone!