Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Produced by the University of Iowa Office of Strategic Communication

In the United States, we cross bridges every day, in cars and trains and on foot. So much so that we rarely give it a second thought. If a bridge is closed, it’s an inconvenience that often costs us time. At worst, we don’t go to work or school or complete our errands that day.

But for many people around the world, the absence of a bridge can have dire consequences. Avery Bang saw firsthand how this lack of access can impact a population when she was a University of Iowa undergraduate studying abroad in Fiji—and she has since committed her career to eliminating these barriers.

In Suva, the island country’s capital, Bang volunteered with a breast cancer foundation. At the time, the average diagnosis of the disease on the South Pacific islands occurred at stage four, and one of her tasks was to help distribute pamphlets about early detection among the more rural communities.

“I’d tag along with a little group of mainly Fijian women with our packet of materials in hand and walk and walk and walk until we came to a river. Our ability to reach the women on the other side—to be able to do something as simple as preventative health care—was decided by how high the river was that day,” she says. “I remember thinking how unjust it was that they were not able to have the same service as someone on the other side. And then I started thinking about how their kids couldn’t get to school and the farmers couldn’t get to market. It’s kind of analogous to being born on the wrong side of the tracks. But instead of having those tracks just be an inconvenience, you literally could die on your way across.”