PULLMAN, Wash. – A group of Washington State University engineering students is hoping to build a simple suspension footbridge to make a positive difference for residents of a rural community in El Salvador.
 
The students, members of the WSU student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), have completed design and secured money for materials. Now they’re hoping to raise enough money to head to El Salvador in August to build the bridge.
 
The project came about when the student group was contacted by Bridges to Prosperity. The nonprofit group, founded by WSU alumnus Ken Frantz (’71, political science), helps build footbridges in rural communities in developing countries.
 
The bridges can change the lives of nearby residents, said Ryan Hartman, a senior in civil engineering who has been active on the EWB project.
 
In the small community of La Hacienda, Corinto, residents who often do business in a larger community on the other side of a nearby river can cross the river only during the dry summer months. During the rainy season, the river gets too high and becomes impassable. Children can no longer attend school, farmers can’t sell their produce in the city and medical help becomes unavailable.
 
“A footbridge can really improve lives, in terms of social, economic and health, as well as allowing education for the kids,’’ said Hartman.
 
Last fall, Karl Olsen, a faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and student John Bergeleen went to El Salvador, where they conducted a site survey for the bridge.
 
During the school year, a group of students, including Bergeleen, designed the bridge as part of their senior design project. 
 
The Engineers Without Borders students applied for and received a grant that allows for the purchase of the required bridge materials. They plan on purchasing materials locally when they arrive in El Salvador with the exception of cable for the bridge, which is provided by Bridges to Prosperity.
 
Hartman has enjoyed working on the project and would like to get the effort completed.
 
“I want to see the site and see how this helps the community,’’ he said. “I want to get to know these people and be there for its construction. I also want to broaden my own horizons.’’
 
In the long term, the EWB students would like to continue bridge building in the region on an annual basis.
 
During the August trip, the students hope to do another site survey for possible construction of an additional bridge. They also hope to establish relationships with a university in El Salvador to further the effort.
 
For more information on the project or to donate, go to www.ewb.wsu.edu.