For many, a relaxing holiday involves getting away and heading towards a warmer location. Others enjoy volunteering and giving back to the community, as a reminder to share their skills and time with those in need. But what if you combine those two together to volunteer abroad?
This is where Global Brigades comes in.
Global Brigades is a large, student-led non-profit organization, which aims to build sustainable communities in under-resourced countries such as Honduras, Panama, Ghana, and Nicaragua. Global Brigades has a holistic model in place, involving the development of eight skill-based programs within the community. These include business, environmental, human rights, dental, public health, water, medical, and engineering. Health projects include patient referral programs, pharmacy programs, and Community Health Workers training programs.
A key feature is the medical brigade, where student volunteers have the chance to join healthcare workers and various other professionals to help develop underprivileged communities. The programs are meant to foster communal strength and prosperity in these fields.
In fact, UTM has its own local chapter, named the University of Toronto Mississauga Global Brigades, which is a non-profit student club contributing to the same global cause, through either fundraisers or by volunteering in the Brigades. The club was officially recognized on September 19, 2016, and currently has 88 members.
Jordan Sam (a third-year molecular biology specialist) and Angela Roldan are the co-presidents of the Global Brigades at UTM. Sam is also a committee member of the National Education Committee for Global Brigades Canada, while Roldan is a fourth-year double major (in biology and psychology), with a minor in biomedical communication, and is also working towards a third major in professional writing and communication.
Last August, UTMGB members, along with 30 U of T students, 10 Carleton University students, and a team of occupational and physiotherapists, traveled to Honduras. Sam was a part of this brigade, which set up a mobile health clinic within an elementary school in El Tablón.
“In over four days, we were able to provide free healthcare to over a 1000 patients,” said Sam.
“I fell in love with the humanitarian community,” he said, and elaborated that it was a life-changing experience that motivated him to continue with humanitarian work—especially at an international level.
“They lack knowledge in proper health and hygiene, and thus student volunteers have the power to educate them with this essential knowledge,” said Sam.
After visiting Honduras, Sam was more aware of the idea that not everyone receives equal chances in this world. After living in Canada, a privileged country, for his entire life, this experience impacted his future goals.
“Everyone who has been on our trip has come back and definitely tried to get more involved in some way,” he said.
Similarly, Simran Araich travelled with Global Brigades to volunteer on a medical/dental Brigade in 2014, and found the experience to be “humbling and uplifting.” She has been a committed volunteer for three years now, and is currently the UTMGB VP of External Affairs.
“The brigade was an incredibly humbling experience that put into perspective the discrepancy in healthcare availability between what I had grown accustomed to in Toronto and the communities we service in Honduras,” said Araich.
“Healthcare is often taken for granted in the GTA: we show up to our doctor’s office and wait in [a] cozy room and get our prescription from a nearby pharmacist. The patients we served, however, would talk to us about health concerns from a month ago, current health experiences [and] worries they have about the future, because they [meet] health care practitioners once every few months.”
What makes Global Brigades stand out from other non-profit organizations would be its commitment to the societies they work with. Global Brigades does not simply invest their funding and move on, but ensures that they leave a lasting effect. Its aim is to continuously work with under-resourced countries until they no longer need Global Brigade’s assistance.
Another key feature of the Global Brigades is that the projects are sustainable. According to Roldan, the health care professionals (such as doctors and dentists) and other workers (such as translators, cooks, and drivers) are all hired locally.
“Therefore, Global Brigades currently strives to not only give services to underserved communities, but to also provide jobs to the local citizens of the countries Global Brigades is currently established in,” said Roldan.
According to Roldan, the first step behind a Global Brigades project is to pick a community in need. “We then come in with a medical and dental brigade to gain the trust of the members of the community. We also provide medical and dental services to that community every three months for a year. We also train health community workers who know basic first-aid to check up on long-term care patients every week,” said Roldan.
“Afterwards, we introduce a water/engineering brigade, where we aim to provide easy access to water at their homes. Most communities in Honduras have to fetch water from a river far from their houses with the help of donkeys. Lastly, we come in with a business/finance brigade, where we teach them to finance and plan their own businesses, and avoid depending on big companies to maximize their profit. The big companies will either charge them with a ton of fees or buy their products (coffee, bread, etc.) at a much lower cost than they are sold for.”
UTMGB specifically runs a medical and public health brigade. Sam stated that students would mainly assist health care professionals in their tasks by acting as mediators between the doctor and patient. This itself is a great learning experience, as students have an opportunity to shadow their potential career role models in action.
As UTMGB has just started its endeavours, they are currently looking to expand their organization within campus and hope to expose the student population to the humanitarian work UTMGB does for under-privileged countries. For example, the UTMGB fundraisers’ proceeds head towards the Global Brigades Sustainable Health Fund, which allows for medical aid throughout the year when a brigade is not present within the countries they work with.
UTMGB will be holding a week-long Fair Trade coffee sale on January 23, which is intended to support underpaid coffee farmers in South America.
As for the summer, UTMGB will be heading on another medical brigade on August 22, 2017. This nine-day brigade will be a chance for any interested student volunteers to set up a free mobile health clinic in rural Honduras.