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Duke engineering students worked to complete bridges in Bolivia and Uganda this year
Most of us take bridges for granted. But students who worked with Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID) in Bolivia or Uganda over the past few years know firsthand the intense planning and effort these construction projects require.
DEID is a student organization that supports high-impact engineering projects around the world, partnering with underserved communities on cost-efficient and sustainable projects aimed at improving the standard of living. Students work on designs during the school year and lend a hand on implementation over the summer months, gaining a global perspective on civil engineering as well as practical project management experience.
This summer, two DEID teams saw bridge projects come to fruition: a pedestrian footbridge in Siatha, Bolivia, and a vehicular bridge near Kanyegaramire village, Uganda.
Residents of Siatha are primarily farmers—but when the Rio Camata rises, they are separated from their farmlands.
A pedestrian footbridge would provide safe, year-round access to not only their main source of income, but also to neighboring communities, schools, and health clinics.
The DEID Bolivia 2019 team worked with students from Duke, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and Wyoming, the Engineers in Action (EIA) Bridge Program and volunteers from Siatha for six weeks to build the needed footbridge. The team excavated the site, set up the layout of the bridge and built the foundation, tiers, towers, and anchors before hoisting the bridge cables and constructing the bridge deck on top of them.
“Traveling to Bolivia made me realize the extent to which different lifestyles and cultures could alter the way people think and act,” said Valerie Tsao ’22. “It was challenging for me to bridge my own experience to the people of Siatha at first, since our upbringings were worlds apart. It was amazing to see how we could still come together to successfully complete the project.”
Uganda’s Kyenjojo district is about an hour away from the nearest village, Kanyegaramire. For years, a single footbridge served people who wanted to cross the Kahompo swamp on foot or by motorcycle—but when the 2018 team arrived in the district last summer, it was clear that the bridge was not able to serve the long-term needs of the community.
Not many of the community’s residents are capable of swimming, but many still braved the water—or hired those who could swim—to carry them across.
The need for a permanent replacement bridge was even more urgent since vehicular access was limited, especially during the rainy season. Local community leaders reported that women were perishing in childbirth because they could not make the long trip to the hospital.
Partnering with the government of Kyenjojo district and Bringing Hope to the Family, members of the 2018 DEID team began to construct a vehicular bridge in place of the existing, seasonally submerged footbridge. They cleared the swamp and built the bridge’s foundation, and between their departure and the arrival of the 2019 team, community members constructed the main frame of the bridge, using steel culverts and masonry walls.
The 2019 DEID team worked to fill the gaps between the culverts with rock and soil, compact the fill, and bend and lay out the steel needed to reinforce the future walkway slab. After the team left, community volunteers finished pouring the concrete for the slab and completed the ramps leading to the walkway.
"The new bridge will ensure that those living in Kanyegaramire will have year-round access to adequate health care and education, and stimulate economic growth as well,” said James Marek ’22.
Faculty advisor David Schaad said DEID is hoping to partner with Duke Engage next year, to send students to Bolivia to work on another pedestrian footbridge in cooperation with EIA, and to Indonesia for a project marrying water, health and sanitation.