The University of Michigan Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) chapter, founded by CEE Professor Ann Jeffers, traveled to Bolivia in May 2013 to build a pedestrian footbridge for the 250 families living in the rural Bolivian village of Palca.
The bridge gave the families year-round access to nearby healthcare, education and markets that were previously blocked by a river that is impassable during the rainy season.
Recent CEE graduate Lydia VanTimmeren led the trip. She said this was a great opportunity to use her engineering education to support a humanitarian cause and learn about engineering concepts in the real world.
“I liked seeing how the bridge was needed and would be used, it gave me a broader perspective on infrastructure need,” VanTimmeren said.
Emily Saban, a current CEE student who will help lead B2P next year, said Bolivia showed her there is often a large difference between what makes sense in class and what works in everyday life.
At the B2P meetings, the team came up with a design that called for about 4-5 meter anchor holes. When it came time to pick up the shovel and dig the holes, 5 meters no longer looked reasonable. The team agreed to use 2 meter holes instead with very high factors of safety.
Saban said she was happy to discover that the local community had innovative ideas to help with the bridge.
“They only have experience and elders to learn from, but they were teaching us many field ‘tricks’ to make our work both more efficient and more beautiful,” Saban explained.
The memory of the trip that sticks out the most for VanTimmeren is the christening of the bridge. The team received necklaces made from strawberries, potatoes and popcorn from the local government as a thank you for their effort.
The greatest form of gratitude for the team was watching the families actually use the bridge.
“It was months of preparation and work finally embodied and there is no better feeling in the world,” Saban said.
The Bridges to Prosperity chapter looks forward to building another bridge in May 2014.