Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) is an organization that incites change throughout the world by providing solutions to fulfill communities’ basic human needs. Members of MSOE’s chapter of EWB (EWB-MSOE) constructed a cable-supported footbridge over a riverbed in Guatemala, effectively linking two communities together.

Bridges are often taken for granted in the United States. They allow convenient and reliable passage and make for easier commerce and communication. However, every year during the rainy season, members of the village of Salitre, Guatemala, were barred from traveling over the Rio Arco into the nearby town of Joyabaj. This meant they could not visit the town’s clinics, send their children to the school, or take their crops to the regional market. Until the season ended and the river dried, the locals were unable to properly support themselves. EWB-MSOE stepped in to help.

The initiative to provide Salitre with a bridge involved eight months of work, beginning during the 2014 Thanksgiving break. Three students along with Professor Douglas Stahl, Ph.D. and professional engineering mentors traveled to Guatemala to test the soil and survey the land on which the bridge would be built.

When the team returned to Milwaukee, they and other members of EWB-MSOE used this assessment and worked for months to plan for the construction that would take place in June 2015. The bridge was to span 235 feet over the Rio Arco and have a walkway that was 40 inches wide. Five 1 ¼ inch cables were to support the bridge along with several towers made up of 400,000 pounds of stone masonry and concrete.

EWB-MSOE returned to Guatemala in June to put their plans into action. This construction team was made up of 10 students including project manager Marley Trier, lead designers for the bridge’s towers and foundation Riley Padron and Megan Feilbach, lead designers for the cables Larissa Bogle-Boesiger and Logan Bertling, and lead designer for the deck Jacob Haen. Dr. Stahl, MSOE lab technician Justin Tracey, and certified PE John Siwula also traveled with the students to help build.

Though the EWB-MSOE team was made up of hardworking members, the work could not have been completed without help from others outside the group. Community volunteers from Salitre provided over 19,000 man-hours of labor. Funding for the project was provided by the Rotary Club of Milwaukee as well as other rotary clubs in Wisconsin and Guatemala. Additionally, financial support for the group’s travel was provided by the MSOE Office of Servant-Leadership.

Thanks to those involved with this project, the villagers of Salitre now have an improved quality of life with safe, reliable and year-round access to the school, clinics and markets of Joyabaj. Members of EWB-MSOE will return to Salitre in the future to observe how the bridge is holding up as well as how it has affected the village.

Check out this video from the Rotary Club of Milwaukee about this and other projects from Engineers Without Borders!