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Friday, October 22, 2021

Students empowering communities, communities empowering students

Tired of the same old medicine-based internships in the United States? Want some experience abroad as well? Look no further than the Global Brigades.

The Brigades is the largest student-led global health non-profit organization, and consists of student volunteers as well as doctors and other health professionals. Through the organization, students and professionals are able to volunteer in developing countries.

“We improve the quality of life there while fostering local culture,” said Jessica Jaswal, founder and current president of the Global Brigades at UC Davis.

The Brigades are dividing into multiple sectors including medical, dental, public health, architecture, water and various others. Within sectors, volunteers try to help out a developing region both by providing aid as well as education. Michelle Hwang, the public relations chair for the club, described the education aspect of the brigades.

“Our biggest goal is sustainability,” she said. “When we visit a developing region we try to educate communities on basic hygiene, how to take antibiotics and that sort of thing. We want to get to the point where when go back we won’t be starting from scratch.”

The Global Brigades was founded last year by Jaswal, a junior psychobiology major, and Katherine Tom. Together, they started the medical brigade and dental brigade. Last year, the Brigades traveled to three remote communities in Honduras.

“A group of 25 of us, one nurse practitioner and four to five doctors went to Honduras,” Jaswal said. “In order to get to the villages, we would have to go through streams and mountains and our bus would get stuck. It was such a beautiful location, yet those people don’t have access to health care.”

During the trip, the Brigades assisted nearly 1,300 people. The total cost averaged about $1,400 with students responsible for covering airfare and in-country costs. In-country costs include food, housing and security. Students can also fundraise to cover costs.

While in Honduras, the students woke up at 5 a.m. every morning to drive to a new village.

“We’d get to a village and there would be an amazing amount of people waiting from the village. Some people had walked four to five hours just to come see us and receive aid,” Hwang said.

In the village, the Brigade set up a mobile clinic in an open area, such as school grounds or a large hall. The clinic consisted of many stations. The first employed volunteers who spoke Spanish in order to ask questions and survey the patients. After giving their medical history, patients would move on to the doctor’s consultation room where a physician would prescribe treatment and medications.

After meeting with a doctor, the patients went to the public health education room to get educated on medications and hygiene issues to promote sustainability.

“Currently, we only go annually during the summer, but we hope to start going twice a year,” Hwang said. “We want to go as much as possible so we can start to create a feeling of sustainability.”

The importance of the Brigades is the interconnectedness it fosters, Hwang said.

“If something happens at one end of the world, the other end knows. A lot of people have different opinions about going out of the country since we have so many problems in the U.S. already, but we need a global perspective of the world now,” she said. “If there’s a problem in a different country, it’s bound to affect us so the Global Brigades needs to focus on this international perspective in order to better our future.”

Participating in the Brigades is not limited to pre-health students only. Due to the wide range of sectors, students from every background can join.

“You don’t have to be pre-law, pre-health or business,” Jaswal said. “We have lots of engineers, philosophy majors and even English majors.”

Students can get involved with the Brigades by visiting the web site or contacting Hwang, Jaswal or any member of the current board. There is an application process which will begin again in the spring for a brigade in the following winter.

“If you want to make a difference and see it happen, and if you want to be a part of something that is bigger than life, you’re welcome to join,” Jaswal said.

JENNIFER SCOFIELD can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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