Bridging the Gap: Engineering for a Cause

17 August 2017
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Walter P Moore intern, Jacqueline Lu, partnered with Bridges to Prosperity to help build bridges and hope in Chillcani, Bolivia

When Walter P Moore Engineering Intern Jacqueline Lu was given the opportunity to translate her passion for engineering into a service opportunity in Chillcani, Bolivia, she leapt at the chance. Chillcani is a small community located in the Andes Mountains where high water levels restrict about half of the community from crossing the river during flood season, blocking their access to school, work, markets, and other resources. Through Bridges to Prosperity, a nonprofit organization that “provides isolated communities with access to essential healthcare, education, and economic opportunities by building footbridges over impassable rivers,” Jacqueline was able to serve alongside other engineers and local workers to construct a bridge to provide safe passage.

Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) hosts various university chapters, University of Toronto Chapter being one of them,” explains Jacqueline who joined the organization her freshman year. “As a chapter we apply for and receive a bridge location which we are then responsible for designing/constructing with the support of B2P engineers and staff.” The design and logistics of the project took place on the Toronto campus among the 30 chapter members. Each chapter employs an executive structure: president, design, funding, media, and specialists within each portfolio. There is an application and interview process for then narrowing down the travel team which is executed by the chapter president. “Typically it consists of executive positions, senior year members, and a few newer members,” adds Jacqueline.

She and her team of 15, nine students and six volunteer engineers, completed the bridge design in February and prepared to arrive in Bolivia to complete the next phase. Jacqueline served as a Logistics Manager. “On the travel team that meant organizing food, lodging, transport, and resources in addition to managing finances in Bolivia.” She has plans to continue in her role as a logistics manager in the club for the upcoming year.

Once they arrived in Bolivia, the team embraced their project and the culture with open arms. “At inauguration we dressed in traditional Bolivian garments, drank fermented corn drink (chicha), smashed the pots used to hold chicha for good luck, and joined in on their Mother’s Day celebration which happened to be the same weekend,” recalls Jacqueline. The team was onsite for 25 days bringing their design to fruition; a project that took six weeks to complete and spanned 38 meters. But more than that, it bridged hope for the Chillcani people. “There were a number of community members who helped with construction and as a result learned the basic process of how the bridge was built and will be knowledgeable enough to maintain/repair it,” says Jacqueline.

The chapter’s goal is to aim for a platinum project next year, which will mean less support from B2P staff and more challenges for the students. Items such as material acquisitions and community agreements would become their responsibility. Jacqueline adds that a large lesson learned on her part was that more communication with the community and masons prior to travel is necessary. “We need to coordinate any work already done so we can modify our construction schedule. I also learned a lot of logistical lessons like securing a cell signal, water supply, travel visas, etc. I will also be improving my Spanish skills before traveling there next time.”

Providing a basic infrastructure for this small community had a tremendous and lasting impact on their lives. Combining philanthropic work and engineering, B2P was a catalyst for Jacqueline and her team to see how important their work in engineering is and the future effects they can have on the world around them. “It was a bittersweet ending saying goodbye to the community,” Jacqueline admits. “But it was also an unforgettable month in the Andes working alongside the community and getting to see cows, donkeys, and sheep every morning on the walk to work.”

Get an in-depth look at Jacqueline’s time in Bolivia! View her B2P Chillcani video here.

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