Today we’re introducing you Global Brigades, a non-profit organization that mobilizes thousands of students through skill-based service programs to improve quality of life in under resourced communities. Vanessa from Global Brigades tells us how the organization started, where it’s going and how you can get involved!
Your mission is to empower volunteers to facilitate sustainable solutions in under resourced communities while fostering local cultures. How did Global Brigades start?
Honduras: A student is taught how to take the blood pressure of a patient.
In 2004, Medical Brigades evolved from a group of students from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. It started with their passion for bringing healthcare to rural Honduras and their first medical brigade was formed through the support of U.S. doctors and an in-country non-profit partner, Sociedad Amigos de los Ninos. After their first trip, the team realized the great need for healthcare in the rural communities, but understood that they couldn’t do it alone. They needed on-the-ground staff to make it happen. So, the initial goal was simple – “let’s start enough medical chapters to hire our first staff member in Honduras”. With the boom of social media, word-of-mouth, and referral partners, medical brigades quickly grew that next year to 15 medical clubs across different university campuses. The team was able to meet their first goal and hired their first few staff members on-the-ground.
2007 was really the shifting point for the organization. With 27 medical brigades traveling to Honduras, students and staff began brainstorming outside the “medical relief box” and noticed trends in the patients that could be addressed beyond healthcare and medicine. Many patients were suffering from water-borne illnesses, respiratory diseases, and skin diseases. From further research, staff found that this stemmed from lack of clean water and in-home infrastructure to prevent diseases. Water Brigades & Public Health Brigades was then formed and the organization was no longer just doing medical relief. The organization renamed itself to “Global Brigades” and later that year received its 501c3 tax status in the United States.
Since then, Global Brigades has grown to 9 programs: Architecture, Business, Dental, Environmental, Law, Medical, Microfinance, Public Health, and Water. A holistic model of programming is implemented in 4 countries: Ghana, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Over 6,000 annual students from over 400 chapters throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, and Ireland travel to participate in skill-based programs.
You’ve been able to help over 315,000 people in Honduras, Panama and Ghana through your organization! Do you have plans to serve more countries?
Expansion into new countries is based on a variety of factors and requires large investments in infrastructure since Global Brigades maintains its own on-the-ground operations. While Global Brigades would like to implement its model in other countries, it must first consider volunteer demand and ensure countries are good fits. Recently, with the growth of student chapters and the saturation of travel to Honduras, Global Brigades has just expanded to Nicaragua and is scheduling for its first brigade in January 2013.
What are some of the most rewarding things that have happened because of Global Brigades?
Panama: Students work with community members to build a nursery for agriculture.
Initially, Global Brigades’ focus was to empower rural communities, but through this process we’ve been able to positively impact not just communities, but also the students participating, and the local and international staff. Global Brigades is no longer just an idea, but rather a mentality of holistic development, awareness, and action that is shared now amongst thousands of people throughout the world. Global Brigades hopes to continue fostering the next generation of leaders to become global citizens.
On the ground, Global Brigades staff, students, and community members just celebrated the completion of the first holistic community, Zuzular, Honduras. Global Brigades strives to provide all programs to each community, however with most programs being rather new, each community can only receive another program as student volunteers become available. Zulzular was the first community to implement a community bank (Microfinance), building of a new school (Architecture), completion of eco-stoves, latrines, water storage, and concrete floors in each home (Public Health), community health workers and consistent medical visits (Medical & Dental), and clean water for each home (Water).
How can people get involved in your cause?
Honduras: A student helps piece together pipe from a water source.
Students that would like to participate in a brigade should first select their program of interest and join that chapter on their campus. If their university campus doesn’t have a chapter yet, they can work with one of our chapter advisors to start a chapter and lead their fellow students on a brigade.
Professionals that would like to get involved are welcome to join the various program brigades.
Professionals can join a local student chapter near them to support as a mentor, or they can even start a brigade at their work as a group of professionals.
Donors that would like to support Global Brigades causes have a plethora of options to see their dollar go to work. Each program has identified areas of funding that are most in need and since Global Brigades is already sustainable without grants and extra donations, 100% of donations made outside of brigades directly benefit the programming on the ground.
Connect with Global Brigades on Facebook and their Website.