Imagine living in a place where your options for getting to the nearest hospital, school or market included forging a river and risking drowning or walking four hours on foot.
For the residents of Ti Peligre, Haiti, this was their reality. But a few months ago, the Ti Peligre community finished a project that changed everything. The Virginia Tech student chapter of Bridges to Prosperity teamed up with the community to create a footbridge in Ti Peligre that makes access to necessities we take for granted — like medical care and food — much easier.
They operated with the message, “Step out and share what you’ve been given. Through holistic sustainable empowerment, there can be lasting change.”
While working directly with the people of Ti Peligre in 2009 through Partners in Health, Tech accounting professor Brian Cloyd heard their need for a bridge, as well as a school. Cloyd set about creating a school for the people through connections he had, and then contacted Matt Cappelli, a civil engineering student, to help him with the bridge project.
In November of that year, Cloyd, Cappelli and two fellow students, Nick Mason — who was the project manager — and Katie Masura, went down to Haiti to do an initial survey of the land. They needed to figure out what kind of bridge was needed and how they were going to construct it.
Using online research, the group — which now also included Chris Cooke and Zach Lawler — found a suspended footbridge design manual from an organization called Bridges to Prosperity that was perfect for what the town needed. Wanting to set up a structure so the bridge could be built and similar projects could continue, the students formed their own chapter of Bridges to Prosperity.
The Tech chapter of Bridges to Prosperity is the first student chapter of its kind.
“There are other university teams, but we are actually the first ones to actually start a chapter,” Cooke, a senior civil engineering major and current president of the club, said.
After the team’s initial visit to Haiti, it spent the next year working diligently on the bridge’s design plan, which included materials, labor and cost estimates among other things.
During this time, the massive earthquake that devastated much of Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, slowed progress on the bridge’s construction. Although Ti Peligre was not affected as much as other places “the flow of materials essentially stopped in Port Au Prince,” according to Cappelli, also a graduate MBA student.