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NMSU Engineers Without Borders to travel to Bolivia

In May 2011, New Mexico State University's Engineers Without Borders ventured into the jungles of Central America to build a bridge for a rural Nicaraguan village. This August, their generosity will take them south of the equator where they will be building a bridge for a small Bolivian town.


Four NMSU Engineers Without Borders volunteers do preliminary work on a pedestrian bridge spanning a river in Bolivia.
NMSU-Engineers Without Borders traveled to Azerca Cancha, Bolivia over holiday break to take measurements in preparation for their August trip to construct a 50-meter-long, suspended pedestrian bridge for the town of approximately 100 residents. (Courtesy photo by Kenny Stevens)

Engineers Without Borders is a non-profit student organization that specializes in providing sustainable engineering projects for those in need.

Their upcoming destination is the community of Azerca Cancha, Bolivia. Kenny Stevens, NMSU-EWB coordinator and NMSU engineering technology professor, said this village is home to approximately 100 families and has a river that runs through its center.

During the rainy season, the river rises and leaves the town divided. One side is left with the health center and access to other communities; the other side is left with only the school.

The group's mission is to construct a 50-meter-long, suspended pedestrian bridge alongside the road to allow community members access to both sides of the town and to transport animals and supplies during the rainy season.

The group will consist of 16 students and a few NMSU alumni. Stevens and Sonya Cooper, associate dean of the College of Engineering, will lead them.

NMSU-EWB's project partner, Bridges to Prosperity, a global philanthropic organization, will provide building supplies for the group on location. However, due to the remoteness of the community, Bridges to Prosperity could not guarantee getting all of the supplies there. Stevens said two EWB students would be going a month early to help.

The rest of the group will arrive on Aug. 1 and they will all depart Bolivia on Aug. 18.

During their stay, the group will camp out in a field outside the community health center, which will provide them with running water and other facilities. Local families will prepare the group's food.

The members, who are required to get a yellow fever shot before leaving, will also have to adjust to the town's 11,500-foot elevation.

"It'll take everybody about a week to acclimatize," Stevens said.

Other potential challenges include the development of one side of the bridge's foundation.

"They're going to have to dig through solid rock," Stevens said. "With limited supplies, their primary tools for this task will be a sledgehammer and a pick."

Major financial contributors for NMSU-EWB are Aggies Go Global and Ascension Architects, Inc.

For more information about the organization or to make a donation, visit their website at http://web.nmsu.edu/~ewb/. For information on the project partner, Bridges to Prosperity, visit www.bridgestoprosperity.org.