Just across the river lies the glistening prospect of hope. Hope for a better education, hope for better opportunities, hope for a better life. For rurally isolated communities across the world, this hope is unattainable without access to one seemingly simple piece of infrastructure: a bridge.
In impoverished countries that lack sufficient infrastructure, the responsibility of providing this necessity falls into the hands volunteer organizations. One of these groups is Bridges to Prosperity, a volunteer-led organization that aims to build safe access to opportunities stretching across the rivers. Avery Bang ‘04, a former West graduate, has been an active member of Bridges to Prosperity for 11 years.
“We are really focused on solving poverty, mostly in Africa and poverty that is due to isolation,” Bang said. “There are over one billion people, so one in seven people around the world that currently walk everywhere. They walk to school, they walk to work, they walk to the farm, they walk to the health center to see the doctor.”
Prior to joining the Bridges to Prosperity organization, Bang was a jack of all trades during her years at West. Participating in activities metalwork to mathletes, Bang juggled a busy schedule while still saving time for her favorite subject: engineering.
“I love that [West] felt really open and available to be both an artist and an analytic person,” Bang said. “When I went to college and decided that I wanted to be an engineer, I ended up having a double major in studio art, so it really kind of led the path for me to find a creative outlet and be academically successful.”
Bang’s love for engineering eventually led her to begin building bridges for those in need. According to West physics teacher Matt Harding, Bang stepped outside the usual stereotype of engineering by using her knowledge for volunteer work.
“Typically people don’t see engineering, and specifically mechanical engineering as a path to improving the lives others in that altruistic kind of way,” Harding said. “But the bridge project that she undertook was just amazing, that she was able to positively impact so many lives of so many people that get overlooked I think too often.”
Even before Bang went on to volunteer her time to change the lives of others, Harding could guess in high school that she was going to go on to do something great.
“You can see from the way her personality was in high school that she was always looking out for other people,” Harding said. “If somebody was going to go on to do that it would have been Avery.”
Not only was Bang involved in a diverse range of classes, she was also immersed in sports during her time at West, participating in both soccer and track and field. Girls track and cross country coach, Mike Parker, recalls Bang’s spirit everyday at practice.
“She was very fun to be around and had a great sense of humor, but a hard working athlete and a hard working student,” Parker said. “I would say she did a good job of combining the two, obviously, she’s out changing the world now.”
After graduating from West and majoring in engineering at the University of Iowa, Bang found her calling at Bridges for Prosperity, combining her knowledge of engineering with a humanitarian spirit to change peoples’ lives.
“My favorite part of my job is that when you start a business or you’re an entrepreneur and at first it’s a team of one, you can start to think about what kinds of culture or values that you want to start to live by,” Bang said. “The thing that I like the most is that I get to work with people to help make them the best that they can be.”