Sunday, November 6, 2011

Update: November 6, 2011

Now that it is November, the NDSEED project is beginning in earnest. The design is being started by the senior members of the team, and the process of grant-writing has begun. We know what are goals are for both, and it will be exciting to progress towards each.

The goal for the design is to have a preliminary design finished towards the end of this calendar year. Now that we have received the topographic survey from our B2P contact, we have all the information we need to address concerns specific to our site. Completing this in a timely manner is vital, because efforts must be started by those living in San Francisco prior to our arrival in order to succeed.

On the other side of our project is the issue of funding. Our current budget estimates that the entire project, accounting for the cost of travel, will cost between $25,000 and $30,000. This is quite a daunting total, as we have raised about 3,000 hard-fought dollars so far. However, we are currently in the process of renewing our partnership with several sponsors: the Center for Social Concerns (CSC), the Kellogg Institute, the Notre Dame Engineering Department, and the Civil Engineering Department. Through the generosity of those who know about our project, we are confident we will meet our goals.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fall Break: Conclusion

The final two days in Nicaragua we spent continuing our search for materials and learning about the country. We also met with the mayor of San Francisco, who appreciates the impact our project will have. In our meeting, we came to an agreement that certain things will be done before NDSEED's return in late May. The community will excavate the sites where the towers will be built, and the towers themselves will be started. Luckily, everyone is on the same page, because the community will take ownership of the bridge, and we will work alongside them.

On Tuesday, the whole team returned to San Francisco, and Maria, Luis, and Dan all got their first sight of the bridge location. While we were there, one man crossed the river on horseback, while another began to ford the river and was turned back when the horse waded in too deep. The bridge will definitely be of great help next year, when rainy season returns. Because the site is so flat, the challenges involved will be to lift the towers to keep the deck of the bridge above the current during its highest stages, and to prevent erosion with the current pounding away at the north tower. Gabion baskets filled with river rocks will be used, forming a gabion wall over 70 feet long. This will add significant cost to our project.

Seeing the effects of a bridge on its local community was an unexpected bonus of our trip. Milocz took us to a bridge built by the University of Iowa near Matigalpa, northeast of Managua. In barely ten minutes of being there, nearly a dozen people passed; men, women, and children.

Heading back to Managua, Manuel again was our driver. He took us for typical Nicaraguan food, a kind of corn-meal pancake, and showed us an overlook over a national forest.

Now we return to the groundwork of our project, trying to raise the money to build this bridge, and completing the design work required. We can't wait to return to such a beautiful country! This week made us even more sure that this bridge is such a vital need for the people of San Francisco, Nicaragua.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fall Break (October 15 - 20, 2011)

Finally, our project has begun! After two months of planning and fundraising, it´s great to be in country and see what we´re working for. Today is Wednesday, and we return to the United States tomorrow, but we´ve packed quite a bit into this last week.

After landing in the capital city of Managua on Saturday, we met Rodrigo and María, both of whom volunteered to help our project through the Rotary Club of Managua (they are secretary and president, respectively). They picked us up from the airport, and arranged for a ride to Estelí on Sunday morning. Manuel, a 40-year-old father of three who studies architecture part-time, took us to Estelí and brought us back to Managua today. Just before leaving, we saw an article in "La Prensa," the daily newspaper, detailing the flooding affecting all of Nicaragua. October is the height of the rainy season, and this one seems particularly bad. The article broke the damages down by region, and Estelí, the region containing our site (San Francisco), suffered the worst of it. Thanks to flooding, 10 bridges had collapsed, 20 communities were isolated, nearly 500 families were evacuated, and over 2500 were affected. We saw evidence of this ourselves in the city of Estelí, where one bridge crossing Rio Estelí had partially collapsed, and a second had water flowing over it.

On Monday, we saw our site for the first time. Milocz, our Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) contact, took Rachel, Jacqueline, Eric, and Steve to the site. They took pictures of the site but immediately concluded it was too dangerous to cross. According to the local community, about 500 families had been stranded on the other side of the river for about 4 days, without access to food, medicine, and other vital supplies. Though the weather made surveying impossible, Milocz already took a detailed survey of the site, so we will have the needed information.

Later in the day, with the help of our driver José, we went to various hardware stores to compare prices for materials we will need such as concrete, wood, paint, screws, rebar, etc. We should not have a problem finding supplies locally.

Now we are about to go out and find something to eat, but afterwards we will finish our account of this preface to our major trip next summer. We hope to have some pictures of our site up soon!