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USI Students Build a Bridge at 14,000 Feet to Help Remote Bolivian Village

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Both USI students and local Bolivian Masons helped with the construction of a more than 300-foot long bridge to span a dangerous gorge. Here, they work on the footings. The bridge will make it easier for local children to trek to school.

A group of University of Southern Indiana engineering students and staff helped build a more than 300-foot long bridge in an isolated village in Bolivia this summer.

This was a joint venture between USI students and staff, Duke University and non-profit organization Engineers in Action (EIA.)

In Bolivia, local masons and laborers were heavily involved in construction.

USI students designed the pedestrain bridge with the help of EIA, to span a dangerous gorge in Japo Bolivia to help children get to school. The build took six weeks in June and July with the help of the Bolivian community.

“Without this bridge, the students would have to increase their walk to school by several kilometers. It was a deep gorge, 80 feet down,” said Jason Hill, associate professor of engineering. He was one of two engineering staff members along with Justin Amos, to go to Bolivia.

Project manager senior Xenia Adames is from Panama, and schooling in the United States. She says the project gave her some perspective.

“I really started to value more — my life, all the privileges I have to be living here in the United States,” she said. “I think that here in the United States, we have so many resources that we don't really think about living without those resources.”

Adames lead the designing of the bridge starting in January, which was checked along the way by EIA.

Project challenges included working at 14,000 feet above sea level in the Andes mountains, the language barrier and drinking local water.

Engineers In Action Summer 2022: Building a Pedestrian Footbridge in Japo, Bolivia

Unlike the other two engineering students who went to Bolivia, Josiah Hollis who handled quality control for the project did not speak any Spanish — and certainly no engineering terms.

“I would have to figure out what they're trying to tell me. And they would have to try to figure out what I was trying to tell them,” he said.

They settled on using photographs to explain themselves. USI student Miguel Pinto Mendoza communicated directly with the Bolivian community.

“I was the main interpreter for the group, so almost every conversation that they had with the Masons, so I have to be there,” he said.

He’s studying electrical engineering — so he learned about construction engineering with this project.

Impacting construction were the chilly temperatures, which affected laying the concrete, said USI Lab Manager Justin Amos. “So the concrete setting time was extended because of the cold.”

Another difficulty was the altitude of 14,000 feet. This led to quick exhaustion and slower recovery from stomach bugs from the unfamiliar water and food.

In the end this group was the catalyst for making hundreds of children’s trips to school easier and safer.

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The gorge the bridge crosses is approximately 80 feet deep.