Will Zweig is a Peace Corps volunteer, but an African district administrator was initially suspicious about the Bethesda man’s reason for being abroad.
“He told my counterpart that he wasn’t sure if I was a spy or not,” Zweig said. “It’s not unheard of for Peace Corps volunteers to experience.”
The 28-year-old Zweig is in Mozambique, building a pedestrian trail bridge in the city of Montepuez, where heavy rainfall causes frequent flooding.
Zweig has been working in the country since September 2012. Twice, he has experienced the rainy season’s impact.
“When it rains, it pours out here: You see the change in the landscape and it’s drastic,” he said.
Zeig said the rainy season begins in late fall and continues through January, transforming shallow streams into massive, fast-flowing, almost impassable rivers filled with crocodiles.
“When the season comes, people become stranded. They’re cut off,” he said.
Zweig, who studied engineering in college, is working now three local communities, trying to build a 115-foot suspended pedestrian bridge across one of these rivers, so residents can safely cross.
The bridge would help stimulate the communities’ economies. Farmers will be able to use the fertile land on the other side of the river and gain access to market opportunities. Hospitals and specialized medical posts, secondary schools and a main transportation hub are all on the other side of the river, too, he said.
Zweig said the project is community-oriented on a small scale, benefiting the local people, rather than the larger district or government.
“You don’t see the same impact — not tens of thousands of people affected — but it will still have an impact,” he said. He estimates the bridge will directly benefit 6,000 people and indirectly benefit 20,000.
The project is partially funded by the Peace Corps Partnership Program, which helps Peace Corps projects globally. The community itself funded 25 percent of the project, and residents will provide labor, Zweig said.
The project hasn’t been without its challenges. In early March, the bridge’s original construction site was submerged. Zweig had to re-evaluate his original budget and design for a new location at a higher elevation.
Last week, he said construction was set to begin in July, with the bridge completed in time for the next rainy season. But environmental conditions have halted construction again, he said Monday.
“We haven’t given up yet, and don’t plan on it until we absolutely have to, we are fighting an uphill battle,” Zweig wrote in an e-mail to The Gazette.
Zweig is writing about his experiences, including progress updates on the project, on his blog, USSWilly.blogspot.com.