posted November 29, 2017
In a remote village in Rio Grande, Panama, approximately 200 people live and work together, primarily as rice farmers. There are no local amenities or businesses and the community shares one vehicle when they need to travel to places like government offices and hospitals. They live among snakes and tarantulas, using handmade machetes as hand tools. Each day, they cross a river and walk half a mile to get to the bus stop, which will take them to the nearest city. In times of heavy rain and strong current, crossing the river is nearly impossible.
CSU student Dan Hughes began his career at Parsons, a technology-driven engineering services firm, in 2001 as a safety manager and quickly worked his way up to division safety manager.
In 2017, when the company began the application process for the team of employees they would be taking to the country of Panama to sponsor a bridge-building project, Dan became interested. He has worked in emergency response and safety throughout his career and has always been interested in humanitarian work. He traveled to Haiti for earthquake rescue work in 2010 and “tries to wedge a way into humanitarian efforts whenever they present themselves.”
The bridge-building project in Panama was a partnership between Parsons, Bridges to Prosperity and the Rio Grande community. Dan was one of the 11 Parsons employees selected for the project.
The team was made up of a construction manager, engineers, environmentalists, logistics and support professionals, and safety professionals. The team had 10 days to build a 47-meter footbridge. Little did they know how much it would change the lives of the citizens of Rio Grande.
“It was a pretty diverse group of people and it was the perfect team,” said Dan. “Some of us had worked on similar projects before, but this was the first time most of us had worked with hand tools in a long time. It was good to get back to our roots in that way.”
Working long days in the community and meeting the people of Rio Grande was “awesome and emotionally charged at times.” When the bridge was completed, the community held a huge celebration. Dan said seeing some of the oldest people of the community and the youngest walking across the bridge for the first time together was a “moving parallel” he won’t soon forget.
“If you have any inkling to help people, just step up. It is a completely different perspective coming from the U.S. where we have all our basic needs at our fingertips then going into a place like Rio Grande, miles away from anything that even resembles an established community,” said Dan. “They get by well and lead healthy, happy lives without nearly as much material wealth as we have.”
Dan began studying at CSU in 2011 when he was juggling a hectic work schedule, travel and family life.
“CSU gave me the opportunity to finish my education and they took into consideration my life experience,” he said.
Finishing his degree was always a “bucket list item” for Dan, both professionally and personally, and he checked it off with pride at the age of 62. He graduated with a bachelor’s in occupational safety and health and is now working towards his master’s degree.
Between finishing his degrees, earning professional achievements and participating in humanitarian work, Dan has achieved a lot and has no plans of slowing down. His advice?
“Don’t stand still. If you stand still for too long, life will pass you by,” he said. “When rare opportunities come along, you take them and know it’s for a good reason.”