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Lehigh CEE students strengthen a community in Panama

Seven students flew to Panama City, Panama, last May and boarded a bus headed southwest to the mountains in the center of the country.

One hour later, the students got into the back of a pickup truck, and continued for another hour on a dirt road.

When the pickup could go no further over the muddy, mountainous terrain, the group got out and hiked for another hour, hauling their belongings and equipment to their base of operations, the small village of El Valle along the Rio Indio river.

The Lehigh students, seven civil engineering majors, were now were ready to build a bridge.

The Rio Indio divides the remote communities of El Harino and Vallecito. During the dry season in Panama, from mid-December to early May, the river runs approximately three feet deep. Still, residents cross it on foot.

When heavy rains begin in May, the Rio Indio can rise five feet in 30 minutes. Now impassable, the surging river completely cuts off residents’ access to essential resources located on the other side of the river. Children in El Harino cannot attend school. Residents of Vallecito cannot reach the paved road, shop at the market, or receive medical care. The isolation makes daily life in this already impoverished community challenging at best, devastating at worst.

A footbridge, however, changes everything.

The students who traveled to El Valle were members of the Lehigh student chapter of Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), a nonprofit organization that partners with university student chapters to build footbridges in isolated communities around the world.

Read the full story at the Lehigh University News Center.

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