Ken Frantz is helping people pull themselves out of poverty, one footbridge at a time.
Ken Frantz has a high-definition satellite view of western Zambia pulled up on his computer screen. He zooms in on a riverbed in a floodplain. Hes able to tell, he says, that there was once a man-made footbridge that linked villages on either side and that washed away during a rainy-season flood. He zooms in on each side of the river and counts the village huts, which gives him a rough estimate of the population. He can graph, too, that a new footbridge to span the gap would need to be about 62 meters long.
On a second monitor, Frantz pulls up images from his recent trip to Zambias Kaoma province. Frantz, the founder and driving force behind the nonprofit group Bridges to Prosperity, was there just days ago to meet with local leaders and volunteers about building a new footbridge at this very spot, among others. Since founding the organization in 2001, Frantz and Bridges to Prosperity have overseen the construction of more than 50 bridges in 13 developing nations, including Honduras, Guatemala, Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Each footbridge, Frantz says, is a path out of poverty, providing villagers with essential access to education, jobs and medical care.
Popping over to Zambia, of course, is neither quick nor easy. But new technologies like Google Earth have helped Frantz speed up the pace of his work, as he and his team identify desired build sites from afar, thus reducing the number of trips needed to complete a project. However, the technology has its limits: For example, only about 15 percent of Zambia is currently available in high definition via Google Earth. Once Frantz can see the entire country from his office in Yorktown, Va., his job will be transformed. For now, he and his team which includes student volunteers from universities such as Notre Dame and the University of Iowa can only estimate that Zambia needs 1,000 to 1,500 footbridges. Worldwide, the team estimates the need could be as high as 500,000.