U of A engineering students to build bridge for Bolivian community

Engineering students from the University of Alberta are literally bridging a gap for communities in South America.

The 49-metre bridge will connect people to nearby markets, schools, hospitals

The University of Alberta's Bridges to Prosperity group will build a bridge similar to this one for the community of Tholamarca in Bolivia. (Georgia Dunn/Supplied)

Engineering students from the University of Alberta are literally bridging a gap for communities in South America.

The group will head down to Tholamarca, Bolivia, in May to build a 49-metre sag bridge to connect people from their farms to nearby markets, hospitals and schools.

People in the community have to climb down the gorge to get to the other side, which can be dangerous during flooding season.

"Many members of the community are on the wrong side of the river," student Georgia Dunn told CBC's Edmonton AM on Tuesday. "They have a lot of difficulty climbing down the gorge [and] crossing the river."

A town in Bolivia needs a bridge to connect kids on one side of a river to their school on the other side. Engineering students here have a plan to make that happen. 7:47

Last year, people were hurt trying to climb down.

Dunn's group is part of Bridges to Prosperity, an organization that develops infrastructure in communities that need it. The bridge they want to build will directly benefit as many as four surrounding communities.

The bridge will cost about $60,000 to build and will be paid for with a combination of fundraising, university funding and crowdfunding. They first try to get the materials to the often-isolated communities, which Bridges to Prosperity will handle.

The materials should be there by the time the group arrives in the community in May. The group will then spend the month building the bridge. They also ask for volunteers from the community, and teach them about bridge construction and maintenance.

Having an impact

Dunn and Mitchell Trollip went along with the University of Toronto's group to Chillcani, Bolivia, last year. They built a sag bridge there in just over three weeks.

Mitchell Trollip, left, and Georgia Dunn were a part of the University of Toronto's trip to Chillcani, Bolivia, last year to build a bridge for the community there. (Georgia Dunn/Supplied)

After they finished construction, the community held a celebration, where the entire town showed up to celebrate.

"The looks on their faces when they cross the bridge was just amazing," Dunn said. "They had confetti that they poured on us."

"The girls had confetti in their hair for the next couple of weeks," Trollip said.

Being on the trip showed Trollip what his work can do for communities that need improved infrastructure.

"I saw first-hand the need that there was in the global community," he said. "You kind of get the impact you can have as engineers, because there is a lot of infrastructure that's needed around the world."

Dunn, back row, with some Bolivians and members of the University of Toronto team last year in Chillcani. (Georgia Dunn/Supplied)