UD Chapter of Engineers Without Borders Builds a Bridge in Guatemala

Even Rod Pieretti, a veteran engineer who helped build the Commodore Barry Bridge and the second span of the Delaware Memorial, was impressed by a structure built by a diverse team of villagers, engineers, college students and others.

In January, people from many walks of life came together to build a 30-foot concrete bridge in San Jose, Guatemala, in 18 days. The work was done primarily by hand, with only an electrical generator and a small cement mixer. The bridge was needed to help people from one side of the village cross a river to reach their crops, which is their primary source of income.

The male villagers—who carried water, sand and gravel in five-gallon buckets on their shoulders—were happy to pitch in and provide a workforce.

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Pieretti, a vice president with Chilton Engineering in Wilmington, says building such a structure in the United States would probably take a year and cost 10 times as much.

“You have to remember we had free labor,” he says. “At one time we had 83 villagers out there working. They didn’t want to be paid. They just wanted to be recognized for their participation.”

The bridge was a project of the UD chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit organization that helps the world’s developing communities have such things as safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. At the same time, the group hopes to bridge economical, political and cultural divides. The project location was chosen with the help of Dr. April Veness, an associate professor of geography at UD. Her research of the Guatemalan population in Sussex County helped bring the parties together in San Jose.

Veness was especially struck by the way the students, engineers, villagers and others came together and how much was accomplished in such little time.

“I know this sounds strange coming from a college professor, but you don’t need a college degree to accomplish great things,” Veness says. “There’s something about working together in a very practical sense that brings the best out in people.”   —Drew Ostroski

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