This past June I had the opportunity to travel with my Global Brigades chapter to Nicaragua for nine days for volunteer work. This was my third year going on a brigade, and my second time going to Nicaragua. You can read more about last’s years trip here. The goal of the Global Brigades program is to help communities make sustainable changes by combining programs that focus on health, education, and economics. Volunteers assist each community with ongoing projects through short brigades. The brevity of each brigade is an attempt to bring a constant flow of new and innovative ideas to each project.
This year I realized how important the strength of the local communities is to the success of these initiatives. Each community has a committee dedicated to overseeing a set of projects by getting resources, completing them within a designated timeline, and coordinating with Global Brigades and the teams sent out to help complete the projects. These committees are made up of individuals; both young and old, who intend to improve the well-being of their communities. They make it a point to learn skills and techniques that would not only improve their potential for getting jobs but also improve the opportunities that the community may receive in the future. It is through this dedication that the community members have made these initiatives such a success. The willingness to help and support each other, no matter how big or small the task, allow them to be strong. For example, during the public health brigade, we worked on facilities for three families in a pretty large community. In many places, it is pretty unlikely that those facilities would be shared with more than a few neighbors, but in that community, it is open to all members of the community who wish to use it.
Medical/Dental (3 days)
We worked with physicians, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists to provide a community with routine check-ups and procedures, medications, and Charlas, or educational sessions, for members of a large community and some from a few smaller neighboring communities. I worked in the pharmacy, triage, consultation, and Charla this year. However, it is important to note that we try to get everyone to work at each station, especially on their first brigade. As this was my third brigade I was placed where my skills would have the most benefit since I already had the opportunity to try each station.
Public Health (2 days)
We worked in the same community we had worked on a water initiative with last year, so it was nice to see some of the families we had met previously. We were very surprised to see that they even remembered some of us. Working in public health brigades has given me a real appreciation of those who do manual labor, especially in the heat. Mixing cement by carrying gravel and sand, mixing and shifting them, and then having to carry the overflowing buckets of cement was some of the most strenuous work I have had to endure. This year I was on the team that sifted the rocks and gravel for mixing and assembling the cement and cement blocks into the walls of the shower and latrines. Altogether we built latrines, showers, and septic tanks for three houses, and a stove that ventilates the smoke to promote cleaner air. My favorite part of this brigade is getting to know the families we are working with and learning from them.
Water (1 day)
On our final day of working, we put the finishing touches on a water brigade in a small community. The day consisted of filling in a ditch that a pipe had been laid to distribute well water to a community. The well had just recently been constructed and the pipe would allow a community that was only receiving water about once/week to have regular access to clean water. While last year, we assisted in digging a ditch on dry land on a hot day, this year we worked on the side of a mountain while it periodically rained. Both were challenging, but I have to say I preferred the later. However, the best part of this brigade is while you dig you are interacting with other members of your group and the community swapping stories, jokes, and sharing vocabulary from the many languages we know to keep each other motivated.
Although this work provides aid to these communities to complete their projects, I am in no way naive to believe that my time there has changed a person’s life. However, I know that my time there made it just a little bit easier for members of a family to cook a meal, or helped some children get much needed dental work. Since these communities are rural and hard to reach they can often be neglected. Unlike with many other programs, these communities lead the projects themselves with the assistance of Global Brigades, and once the projects are complete they help neighboring communities with similar tasks. The community creates jobs, income, and access to resources that many members would not receive without living in the cities. As a result, they are able to improve their community in a way that can truly benefit future generations. Additionally, during the medical brigades; which are one of the first brigades to visit a community, we collect data on each patient that allows Global Brigades to assess the needs of each community. Once this data is analyzed, Global Brigades works with the community leaders to work on the projects that would provide that community with the greatest benefit. The goal is for this data to show improvements in the health of the communities members so that eventually the community will be stable and self-sufficient enough to no longer need our assistance.
All in all, I can honestly say that working with Global Brigades has been one of the best experiences of my college career. As a young person and student I believe it is important to learn from others because you never know what they can teach you. As someone who wants to work in healthcare experiences like these really solidifies my desire to work in the service of others while reminding me to appreciate the smaller things in life. I am extremely thankful for the many people I have met, and what they have taught me on these brigades. I can only hope to carry these lessons with me to apply them throughout my life.
– Tatyana xo
Have you volunteered recently, or hope to do so? What was one of the most important or most memorable lessons you learned from your experience?