The Bridge at Siatha

Posted on: June 23, 2020

Kacie Wolverton, Bridge Program Manager

The further you go, the warmer it gets. Descending along a winding, narrow dirt road, only a sheer drop-off separates you from the growing river several hundred feet below as it accompanies you on the journey downward. Soon you’ve passed from freezing mist floating along the barren landscape of the Bolivian altiplano to sweating profusely in the tropical jungle of northern La Paz.

As you go, you pass small mud shacks, humble houses, and an occasional school building. Even amongst this wild, seemingly forgotten land – even here – men and women eke out a living. Yet the gift of this land is also its curse. The people here are not wealthy in many senses of that word, but they are rich in water. It springs forth readily from the ground and majestically spills down from grand waterfalls. It also rages year round in massive rivers that tear the land apart. Evidence of its rampages, gigantic boulders sit strewn along the river gorge as if marbles tossed by giants. And it is as such that this life giving liquid violently forces the people here to settle onto small parcels of land near the road.

It is no wonder the people question what they are doing. Should they pack up and try to make it in the city? How can a family make it here? No matter how defiant, how long can a young man risk his life trying to cross the raging river to his farm on the other side? If they build their house on the other side, how will the children get to school as they grow? And it is as such that many are pushed to abandon their homes to seek opportunity in the already overcrowded city.

Unless of course, a safe crossing could be built across the expanse over the river. If it was only so simple, they would have done it already. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty, but building a bridge is no easy task. Immense amounts of planning, management, and coordination are required. Not to mention the months of back-breaking labor, challenges that demand engineering skill combined with practical ingenuity, and the iron will to make the dream a reality. Yet this challenge they will not face alone.

This is the niche of Engineers in Action. Combining the fortitude of a community with the engineering skill and resources of EIA forges a new future for these communities. Hand-in-hand, and brick-by-brick, a new reality is sweatily built across the span of distinct cultures and geographies while creating safe access from communities to markets, schools, and medical care.

Today an 81-meter pedestrian bridge spans the roaring Camata River, providing year-round safe crossing for all. And it is as such that the community of Siatha kept the youth in the community; that they were able to build new homes on the other side, without fear of risking their lives and investments; that they worked with agronomists to develop coffee cultivation and dared once again to dream of a better future for their families.