A group of Mines students, representing Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA), travelled down to Nicaragua to the small community of Los Gomez to complete a pedestrian footbridge over the frequently flooded Rio Ochomogo River. The bridge had been under construction for the preceding year. The cohort included six students, a faculty mentor, and a professional mentor, ranging in majors from civil to humanitarian to chemical engineering, all of whom donated their spring reaks to helping those less fortunate than themselves. The trip marked the 4th trip to the small community over the last year in which the team was able to finish hand mixing and pouring two concrete anchors, stringing five steel cables, and laying the decking and fencing of the 42 meter pedestrian footbridge.
EWB-USA Mines is a student led campus club that focuses on sustainable development of communities outside of the US with six core values: integrity, service, collaboration, ingenuity, leadership, and service. In addition, the club participates at a local level in a variety of on-campus and off-campus events including Relay for Life, Up ‘Til Dawn, and many Habitat for Humanity builds.
Barbara Anderson, a graduating senior in Civil Engineering accounts her experience nearing the end of the bridge completion. “As we began putting the decking on the bridge we were able to muster a lot of community support and could tell that the community members, even the ones that didn’t come to worksite, were getting excited for their bridge to be completed. Kids would walk by on their way home from school and just watch us work on the bridge for hours and, as soon as we left, would play on it. At the end of the week, we had an opening ceremony for the bridge with the whole community. It was an awesome experience to see all the people that had worked with us, fed us, and welcomed us into their homes gather together and celebrate the success of their project.”
EWB-USA prides itself on their ability to foster the sustainable development of communities by not just supplying the community with a capital donation (i.e. a bridge), but rather to grow the sustainability of a community such that every citizen can meet their basic human needs independent of the organization. One of the keys to the success of EWB projects is the ability to foster community driven projects that require an investment of either time or a small portion of the project cost. The result is a community that demonstrates ownership of and pride in a project which ultimately creates a stronger and more sustainable community.
Despite the long hard days faced by the team, there was time to talk with the locals and feast on home cooked meals. As with nearly all international travel, the most memorable experiences were those grounded in the creating and building of relationships. Another member of the travel team, Jake Montgomery – a sophomore in Civil Engineering, shared his experience in Nicaragua from cultural perspective. He said, “We worked some very long days – sometimes throwing rocks and sometimes mixing concrete. On these days lunch was rather light. So when at 6 o’clock rolled around we headed to wherever we were eating that night and were ready for food. Now at these dinners there was always a decent variety of food, ranging from plantains to chayote and even homemade tortillas, of which everyone would be careful to take just enough of each dish to allow everyone else to get some. But when the rice and beans hit the table this was never a concern; there was always more than the group could eat and with this new found freedom we feasted.”
Despite the team’s ultimate goal to complete the bridge, there was enough time to build and strengthen the relationships that mean so much to the community and the travel team alike. Not only did the completion of the bridge increase the health and safety of community members, but also demonstrated the compassion of Mines students towards others.
Looking forward, EWB-USA Mines is planning a similar project in the neighboring community of La Conquista, Nicaragua. The new project is expected to take an innovative approach to involving the community beyond the typical scope of EWB-USA. The intention is to partner with a local university in order to involve their engineering students in a hands-on opportunity that would allow them to design as well as construct a pedestrian bridge under the guidance of EWB-USA Mines. The opportunity not only allows the students to apply their knowledge of engineering to a real world problem, but also creates a pathway for future projects and ongoing relationships among local communities. Ultimately, EWB-USA Mines hopes to encourage the growth of a community’s sustainability as well as increasing the livelihood of its residents.
The club is open to all majors on campus and has several weekly committee meetings including the Logistics committee, which focuses on fundraising, publicity, and event coordination, the Nicaragua 1 committee, which is responsible for the erecting of the new bridge, and lastly the Nicaragua 2 committee, which is currently assessing the viability of a new project in the community of La Conquista, Nicaragua. For more information and meeting times please visit their OrgSync page and personal webpage at mines.orgsync.com/org/ewbmines.