In fall 2013, a group of University of Waterloo students came together to establish Bridges to Prosperity’s first Canadian university chapter. Bridges to Prosperity is a not-for-profit organization with a vision to improve the lives of impoverished communities around the world by eliminating rural isolation.
Many rural communities around the world are bordered by rivers that experience heavy flooding making it very dangerous or impossible to cross. Bridges to Prosperity works with these communities to build cable bridges in order to facilitate access to social institutions. The efforts of Bridges to Prosperity and the people of these communities allow children to gain access to schools, gives farmers access to markets, and the whole community access to medical centres and hospitals.
The University of Waterloo chapter will dedicate their efforts to helping communities in Bolivia. There is a great demand for footbridges in Bolivia due to the diverse topography of the country. The topography includes differences in elevations in small regions where flooding during the rainy season limits passage across rivers. As a developing country with a level of poverty of approximately 53%, the people of Bolivia have welcomed our chapter with kindness and have shown great enthusiasm towards helping us, help them.
Successfully helping these communities involves significant planning and dedication. The first step consists of choosing which community to work with. Various communities contact Bridges to Prosperity requesting their support. Our chapter then considers the level of impact, benefit, community conditions and safety to make the decision. The next step involves fundraising money through events and corporate sponsorships. This is an important process as we must raise enough money for the supplies and materials, travel costs and safety equipment.
We are required to use our engineering sense in completing such important projects. A topographic survey is conducted at the proposed site to confirm the feasibility and practicality of the design. Students also have the opportunity to practice and learn engineering skills during the design of the bridge. With the aid of a design template, our team works out the specifications of the bridge to achieve the optimal results. The design is then presented to our technical mentors and Bridges to Prosperity to be approved. The final step is travelling to Bolivia to build the bridge.
The first project for the University of Waterloo chapter was a footbridge in Totolima, Bolivia. Totolima is a community of 600 people located in the region of Cochabamba. The river passing through the community floods during rainy season, preventing safe crossing between both sides of the community. The footbridge that we built now safely connects the people of Totolima to schools, medical centres and markets.
The University of Waterloo Bridges to Prosperity chapter has provided students with the opportunity to practice their engineering knowledge, gain lifelong leadership skills, and most importantly help communities in need. Our ambition and dedication to this cause drove us to success in August 2014 when we successfully built our first footbridge in Totolima, Bolivia. The work of the community and our own students is now used to better the lives of the community. The challenges and accomplishments of last year’s project introduced our students to important aspects of engineering and we hope to continue learning these valuable lessons through our chapter’s future successes.