Thomas Rutherford’s Service in Nepal 1977-1979

Thomas Rutherford’s Service in Nepal

Years of Service: 1977-1979

“The year was 1977. Jimmy Carter was the new president, and there were high expectations that the country was going in a new and better direction. It was a great time to join the Peace Corps. When I applied to Peace Corps, I found the RSB (rural suspension bridges) in Nepal, and I knew it was what I wanted to do. The job description sounded like something from “Mission Impossible”. Alas, I applied and was rejected. (Yale engineers did not take classes in concrete design and thus I was insufficiently educated.) I sent the description to my brother, Jim, who was finishing his MS in structural engineering at Cornell. He applied and was accepted immediately. Three months later, they could not find a fifth applicant, so they invite me to join. Jim and I were the first brothers ever to join Peace Corps in the same group.

Here is the “Volunteer Assignment Description”:

The major project goal is to survey, design, estimate, and oversee construction of rural foot suspension bridges in mountainous regions of Nepal. This could mean walking from one to five days to reach your site, as no roads exist in the hills. Your physical condition, health, and legs must be in excellent shape. The following information reflects a good approximation of your assignment, but circumstances and priorities may change. Your commitment to serving in this program is expected to overcome the disappointments and frustration that will be a part of your life in Nepal. The Remote Area and Local Development Department (RA & LDD) will approve and select project sites. The LDD will assign you to remote areas of the country to arrange the transportation logistics from regional LDD offices and workshops to the nearest roadheads or district centers and ultimately to the particular project sites. This process may take from one to five months. You will then oversee and supervise construction which entails excavation of both sides of the river to determine and construct appropriate anchors, arrangement of work force to cut wood for the walkway and break stones for concrete work, erection of steel or wood towers, hanging cables and suspender rods, assembling the walkway and proper fencing, and preparing approaches to the bridge to facilitate its use by the local people. During this time you will train some local people, probably with little or no education, to maintain the bridge after its completion. 75% of your tour will be spent in the field surveying sites or implementing a project, where you will be isolated from other Westerners. The time not spent in the field will be spent in the regional offices procuring supplies, working on designs and estimates, and arranging for transportation of materials. Slack season time (monsoon) will find you concentrating on survey and design work and possibly developing and implementing secondary projects, such as construction or renovation of primary schools especially roofing, alternative uses and identification of local and appropriate technology, etc.