Virginia Tech Students Unite Haiti Villages Across a Treacherous River (With Video)

Children in the mountain village of Ti Peligre, Haiti, needed safe passage across a treacherous river to reach school. To help, a dozen Virginia Tech students - determined to prevent more drownings - designed and helped build a 200-foot bridge.

For as long as villagers could remember, people lost their lives when the rains came. River waters swelled, dashing to their deaths those who lost footing during crossing to reach an adjoining community with its school, markets, and access to medical care.

A dozen students - working with Pamplin College of Business Professor Bryan Cloyd and the United Methodist Church of Blacksburg - made several trips to Haiti over more than a year, where they worked with residents to build the suspended footbridge. Spaghetti dinners helped raise funds, and for extra technical support students founded a chapter of the nationwide organization Bridges to Prosperity.

"Despite lack of experience, fundraising challenges, full-time engineering course loads, and an earthquake that devastated Haiti - these students relentlessly offered their free time," said Chris Cooke, an engineering senior scheduled to graduate in December 2011. "Because of this, a community is no longer held captive by a river and has learned a new technology."

The bridge was dedicated this spring, with villagers celebrating with food, balloons, and brass bands. One of the residents told the students he wished he could open up his heart for the students to see how happy he was.

Villagers now enjoy greater ease of access to schools or markets or even a waiting ambulance.

"We hope to not just bridge rivers, but also to bridge the gap in students' lives to a life of service and the ultimate fulfillment of Virginia Tech's motto Ut Prosim - That I May Serve," said Matt Capelli, of Mechanicsville, Va., a graduate student in civil engineering as well as the Pamplin College of Business MBA program.

Nick Mason, of Richmond, Va., who recently graduated with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, said, "I feel like as an engineer, I'm privileged with my education, and it's a gift from God that He's given me, and I want to use that as a gift to other people."

Impressed with the project, the Blacksburg Rotary gave a $100,000 grant for more student bridge projects in Haiti.

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