Rutgers club 'bridges' communities across planet
Bridges to Prosperity recently returned from an eight-week trip building a bridge in Bolivia.
Bridges to Prosperity is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide infrastructure to communities dealing with "rural poverty due to isolation," according to the club’s website.
The process of building the bridge takes about a year. During winter break, the club traveled to the site to survey it, and then design the bridge within those parameters, said Cynthia Arellano, co-president of Bridges to Prosperity and a School of Engineering senior.
During the summer, the club travels to construct the bridge alongside the local community.
The bridge was built at an elevation of 12,000 feet, which caused the work to feel even more strenuous than it would at sea-level, said Richard Loper, co-president of Bridges to Prosperity and a School of Engineering senior.
The conditions were rustic and the local community cooked the food for the students, Arellano said. The students worked alongside the University of Colorado to build the bridge as well as directly with the local community.
This past year was Bridges To Prosperity’s first year at Rutgers, Arellano said. There was pressure to join other organizations with similar missions, but Arellano and Loper did not want to join a different club, they wanted to start a chapter of Bridges to Prosperity at Rutgers.
There were some obstacles in the process of finalizing the trips details, she said.
Their first step was processing the paperwork and working to satisfy both Rutgers’ and Bridges to Prosperity’s requirements. There is also a lot of liability involved, and so the group had to be very meticulous regarding the official forms.
The second obstacle was fundraising the trip. The club traveled internationally, on two occasions this past year.
“Our travel expenses were paid. We got this tag-along on very short notice, and we reached out to Rutgers for help,” Arellano said.
Aside from building the bridge, Arellano said their biggest accomplishment was “fundraising $13,000 in less than a month.” Bridges to Prosperity’s manual requires that each group traveling to one of their sites contributes a certain amount of money to the bridge, she said.
The club managed to raise this amount through proposals and a GoFundMe page. After bridge building, fundraising is the most crucial part of the club, Arellano said.
The trips to Bolivia also gave the students perspective on their capacity to impact change in the world.
"Usually you assume that after graduation you should get a big company job. This kind of changed that for me," Loper said.
Engineering provides resources to help people, he said.
"Having huge positions in huge companies sounds great, but actually helping people and using your knowledge to make a difference is so rewarding," he said.
Developing countries do not always have people with the mentality and the knowledge that an engineer has, Arellano said. Part of the mission statement of Bridges to Prosperity is to spread knowledge.
After their triumphs and setbacks of the past year, Bridges to Prosperity continues to set goals.
“We’re still really small, so our biggest goal is recruiting,” Arellano said. They club is not limited to engineers.
The club plans to grow and are looking for people who are passionate, driven and willing to work, Loper said.
“We’re trying to leave a strong foundation, a strong structure,” Loper said. “We are looking for young students who can keep this going. We need this cycle to continue.”
Faith Hoatson is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.