In a small Bolivian village, hours away from modern conveniences there is a sturdy 30-metre long foot bridge spanning a river given to extreme flooding for five months of the year. Its steel girders and tall wire fencing sides are brightly painted in swathes of green, yellow and red honouring the nation’s flag. Gone is the previous version loosely comprised of weathered wooden planks precariously slung between two rocky inclines.  For the first time in memory, the 600 men, women and children of Totolima can safely cross the nameless river without fear.bridge in totalima

It’s a comforting thought to Dilan Badshah, one of the young Waterloo Engineering men and women who designed and constructed the bridge in the summer of 2014.  As a second-year Civil Engineering student at University of Waterloo, Badshah is the founder of University of Waterloo Bridges to Prosperity (B2P)  , a volunteer student-design team who use their engineering skills to do what engineers have been doing for centuries, build bridges.

“Leading the University of Waterloo Bridges to Prosperity team has given me a taste of what is required in an engineering project,” says Badshah. “Being able to create a design for a site several thousand kilometers away, while meeting our financial constraints was no easy task.  I am confident that this experience will influence the way that I approach and deal with engineering problems in the future.”

A new student design teamstudent design team in bolivia

The B2P team is one of 25 student design teams at Waterloo Engineering. These volunteer, student-led teams are an integral part of many engineering student’s education. Often, students join a team in their first year and continue to volunteer until their fifth year, knowing they are benefiting from working as part of engineering team while often competing (and winning) global competitions. Badshah, however, knew he wanted to do something engineering-related that helped others in need.  The international Bridges to Prosperity non-profit organization provided an ideal fit for Badshah’s altruistic goals. He worked with the director of the Student Design Centre to create a Waterloo chapter and successfully launched Waterloo Engineering’s newest team.

Like all student-led teams at Waterloo Engineering, Badshah had to assemble a committed group of students and establish a business plan to prove that the UW Bridges to Prosperity student team had sufficient funding, organization and leadership to succeed.

With 16 students on the B2P team, the budget allowed for only five students to travel to Totolima, where they met up with two international B2P engineer/construction managers to help them tackle the students’ first civil engineering build. The site was excavated with the help of the local villagers beforehand under the guidance of the B2P engineer. Upon arrival, it took the Waterloo Engineering team two weeks to construct the steel and wood footbridge.

A worthy project

team supportersFor Badshah, it was a life-changing experience. The knowledge he and his team members gained was surpassed only by the satisfaction of seeing a community cross a solidly engineered and constructed footbridge. He realizes that only through Waterloo Engineering’s student design team program could he and his team have accomplished such a worthy project.

“I didn’t realize how supportive Waterloo Engineering was of student teams,” says Badshah, already deep into the planning and fundraising of the $30,000 required for the 2015 pedestrian bridge build in Chimoré, Bolivia. “But they were behind us all the way.”  His team has since given presentations at the university to share the positive impact their project has had on the village.  “I like to think we’re all one family with a common interest in engineering.”