Over a hundred UMBC students now travel the world to assist underserved communities with everything from sustainable farming practices to reproductive education. Global Brigades sends teams of students to communities that request help and empowers those communities through education.
“That is what I love about Global Brigades: They never go in to communities that haven’t asked for them,” said chapter chairperson Sophia Lopresti.
Lopresti, a junior, studies health, development and the environment within the Global Studies program. As Global Brigades chapter chairperson, Lopresti oversees all seven of UMBC’s brigade programs. As a freshman, she traveled to Panama with the Dental Brigade. During her second year, she founded and led the Public Health Brigade to Nicaragua.
The UMBC chapter began in 2012 with the Medical Brigade; for the first year, students only raised money. They took their first trip to Panama in the spring of 2014. The program has grown exponentially since then; as of Sept. 2016, there are over 120 students actively involved in seven brigade programs: Medical, Dental, Environmental, Human Rights, Public Health, Water and Microfinance/Business.
Global Brigades reaches much farther than UMBC, however. It is an international non-profit that utilizes a holistic model to volunteering. They partner with Honduras, Panama, Ghana and Nicaragua. UMBC students have traveled to both Panama and Nicaragua. Students are not permitted to travel to Honduras due to the State Department warning and Ghana’s program was briefly suspended due to concerns regarding the Ebola outbreak. However, volunteers in the medical and dental brigades will begin traveling to Ghana again this year.
Students typically embark on one trip each year; the majority of the brigades this year will be traveling over spring break. Students tirelessly fundraise in order to combat their travel expenses for their brigade, which usually range from $1500 – $2000. These expenses, called “Program Contributions” cover translators, intra-community transportation, airfare and meals. Global Brigades provides all training materials and resources to the community.
Throughout their organization, Global Brigades emphasizes empowerment and helping community members to learn skills that they will continue to use after volunteers are long gone. While in the host country, students engage with local community members through charla (Spanish for “chat”) to train locals in the skills necessary to perpetuate their community improvements. Education chairs for each brigade oversee this process.
“It’s very empowering for them to know these things and [be able to] teach others,” said senior health administration and public policy major Sohini Kundu, fundraising chair for the water brigade.
Educational materials that volunteers disseminate to these populations are prepared by the Global Brigades organization. Campus chapters also have representatives from the organization that work alongside their officers and members and serve as a resource.
Based in Milwaukee, advisor manager Danielle Cavendish presides over Global Brigades chapters in the East Coast region. Her experience with Global Brigades began as an undergraduate when she traveled to Honduras with the public health brigade.
“I fell in love with Central America and with the program [on that trip],” she said. Canvendish has been working directly with students in chapters during the two and a half years since her graduation.
Several brigades are still taking applications for spring trips. Students may consult the organization’s myUMBC page for more information.