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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Global Brigades: More Than a Trip to Honduras

Published: September 6, 2013
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

One might ask me, why would I want to spend my February break in rural Honduras, when I could have gone skiing in Vermont, or to the beach in Florida? I could have chosen to catch up on sleep, homework or spend time with family, but I chose to lay bricks and cement for a week in the hot sun. Am I crazy? Do I regret this decision? Absolutely not!

This past February I went to Honduras with Brandeis’ chapter of Global Brigades. Founded in 2004, Global Brigades strives to empower volunteers and under-resourced communities to resolve global health and economic disparities and inspire all involved to collaboratively work toward an equal world. Global Brigades currently has chapters at more than 70 different universities worldwide and has provided health and economic development solutions to more than 350,000 beneficiaries in Honduras, Panama, Ghana and Nicaragua. Global Brigades has mobilized thousands of university students and professionals through a multitude of skill-based programs that work in partnership with community members to improve quality of life in under-resourced regions while respecting local culture. Students can choose to embark on architecture, business, dental, environmental, law, medical, microfinance, public health or water brigades to make an impact on the lives of citizens of many underdeveloped countries. One way Global Brigades sets itself apart from all others is because they use a model that empowers people to live a better quality and more sustainable lifestyle.

Brandeis’ medical/dental brigade has already started preparing for its third brigade this upcoming February break. The public health brigade is gearing up for its second trip, whereas the newly founded microfinance brigade is preparing for its maiden voyage this spring. The medical/dental brigade brings American doctors, dentists, pharmacists and other health care professionals with them to Honduras to open a rural clinic to treat people who would normally have no access to health care. Global Brigades has one clinic follow up a few months after a past university brigades’ clinic to continue to give the same villagers care, and to continue to build upon their doctor-patient relationship with Global Brigades. They also raise thousands of dollars to buy enough medication to last the patients until the next brigade visits. Students get the opportunity to triage and work side-by-side health care professionals. This all feeds into their sustainable model, to give continual access to health care.

The Global Brigades professional staff realized many of the health problems that plague the people in these areas are highly preventable. For example, most of the homes in the areas in which we work have mud floors, which are the breeding ground for bacteria, fungi and disease. Many of the villagers turn up to the clinics with respiratory problems because they have wood-burning stoves in their homes that empty all of the smoke directly into their homes. This inspired the creation of public health brigades, which works side-by-side community leaders and families to build many different public health and sanitation projects in the villages. I went on Brandeis’ first public health brigade to Honduras last February, where we worked on public health projects in two homes in a small rural village called El Jute. Some of the projects that we constructed were concrete floors in the homes, eco-stoves, sanitary latrines, a septic tank and a “pilla” to store clean drinking water. We also got the opportunity to go into the local school and teach schoolchildren about public health and sanitation practices. Global Brigades also helps train community leaders in the village to help maintain a high standard of cleanliness and sanitation in the homes of their neighbors.

This year will be the first time Brandeis has ever sent a microfinance brigade to Honduras. The microfinance brigade aims to teach Hondurans about rural banking, improving the existing rural “cajas” or banks, and starting small businesses. Their E-board has already started recruiting and preparing for their upcoming trip.

All of the Hondurans that I met on my brigade welcomed us like family and were incredibly grateful for our efforts. I still keep in touch with many of the people I met in Honduras on a regular basis. The villagers want as many updates on our lives at Brandeis as much as we want to hear how they are doing in El Jute.

As the semester moves forward, I yearn to go back to Honduras. Global Brigades has already started to hold weekly meetings and informational sessions. Until February, I have quite a full, yet exciting schedule of planning for the next Brigade!