The following was written by Bridges to Prosperity member Tara Hofferth ’15.
Our Journey to Panama
One year ago, a group of Lehigh University students was presented with an inspiring challenge. Our Bridges to Prosperity application had been approved, and we were assigned the task of fundraising, designing, and ultimately helping to construct a footbridge in Vallecito, Panama.
The first major obstacle was fundraising, with a goal of $10,000 toward material costs of the bridge. Fundraising was jump started when our chapter was admitted to Lehigh’s crowdfunding website Ignite LU. We were successful and even surpassed our fundraising goal, raising over $17,750. We are extremely grateful to everyone who donated and helped make this bridge possible!
The Vallecito Bridge spans El Rio Indio. It allows the people who live in Vallecito access to the road and thus civilization, and the children in El Harino access to school, during the rainy season. Designing the Vallecito Bridge required a multi-disciplinary approach.
We partnered with George Horas, an engineer at Alfred Benesch and Company, to design a 70-meter span bridge that is wide enough for horses to pass. Designing the bridge was a test of the knowledge we learned in our coursework and an opportunity to gain skills in project scheduling and management.
Finally, we were ready to travel to Panama!
Read more about Bridges to Prosperity’s trip to Panama after the jump.
Five advisors accompanied seven students on the three-week long stay in Panama. The trip was even more challenging than any of us could have predicted. Vallecito was a 40-minute strenuous hike from the main road, which made getting materials like cement, rebar, and the thousand pound cable, an interesting exercise in planning and labor. It also rained everyday, making pools out of our anchor block excavations and often calling an early end to the workday.
However, we were met with an enthusiastic, determined, and hard-working community. We stayed with welcoming host families, which was an opportunity to embrace a more rustic lifestyle and become immersed in the local culture. We worked every day, even on the weekends, and tried to stick to a strict construction schedule.
We were incredibly impressed by the commitment and skills that the locals demonstrated. We quickly realized that even though we were the engineers, they knew the land and the tools and it was the locals that often came up with the best solutions.
During our time on site we helped to verify all the as-built dimensions, complete the anchor excavations, tie the reinforcement cages cast the anchor blocks, ran the suspension cables and set the sag. Ultimately, some challenges posed unavoidable construction delays. At the end of our three-week stay we got to the 90% completion mark. Since returning to the states two b2p interns were able to work with the community to finish the Vallecito Bridge! We are very proud of what we accomplished this year and during our trip in Panama.
Student Thoughts: “This experience has helped sculpt me as a Lehigh engineer. It gave me the opportunity to work with a group of students that I did not know on an unprecedented project. The entire process from start to finish involved being creative and innovative, thinking from a multi-disciplinary perspective, networking, and stepping outside of my comfort zone. I am grateful for the experience and eager to continue this year. The Lehigh University Bridges to Prosperity Chapter is just getting started.”
Learn more about Bridges to Prosperity at https://www.facebook.com/BridgesToProsperityLehigh