Students target global problems, locally

A group of college students can build credit systems, provide health care and supply clean water to a Honduran village, Global Brigades CEO Steve Atamian said at a Branford College Master’s Tea on Friday.

Atamian discussed the ability of Global Brigades — the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization — to allow college students worldwide to effect real change in Honduras and Panama, creating sustainable communities through a decentralized model in which students form small groups to target a specific problem in a village. He also stressed the organization’s ability to introduce students to the world of nonprofits.

“[Global Brigades is] not a cure-all for global health, but it’s a good way to introduce students to an industry and make a difference,” Atamian said.

Global Brigades is an umbrella organization of international nonprofits that mobilizes students to go on service trips in Honduras and Panama. Originally a branch of a Honduran nonprofit, the organization was established formally in 2003 at Marquette University and has since multiplied into 110 chapters at American, British, Canadian and Irish universities.

Atamian described the organization’s model as a “hub and spoke system” operating from a permanent central hub, around which brigades of about 15 students can work in about a hundred villages. Atamian stressed the students’ input in the planning of the trips, citing the example of a recent Microfinance Brigade trip where students selected the businesses they deemed worthy of financial support.

Each brigade’s specific function will improve some aspect of the village until the village is fully sustainable, he added.

“We’ll exit when the villages don’t need us anymore,” Atamian said.

Although Global Brigades has many types of trips, Atamian focused on Microfinance, Medical, Water and AIDS Brigades. The Medical Brigade is an opportunity for students to establish basic medical facilities in a village, including a patient records system and clinics that can provide basic medical care to villagers; the Water Brigade focuses on providing clean water sources to villages; the Microfinance Brigade provides existing businesses with capital, establish credit systems and help start new business; and the AIDS brigade focuses on AIDS awareness and prevention.

While Yale has many community service trip opportunities, trip leaders said Global Brigades differs from other trips because of its long-term scope. Scott Shinton ’12, who along with Gabriella Kelly ’12 started Yale’s chapter of Water Brigades, said the organization’s continued presence in one village year after year provided a lasting relationship with a village’s inhabitants.

Adwaita Nayar ’12, a founder of the Microfinance Brigade at Yale, added that hearing Atamian speak was helpful to understand her brigade’s role in the organization’s hub and spoke system.

“It was great to see the holistic picture of what Global Brigades is trying to achieve,” Nayar said.

Kelly and Shinton said they plan on going to Honduras this August to get acquainted with the staff and program. They hope to lead a Yale trip next academic year as well as next summer; Nayar said the microfinance brigade has a similar plan.

According to Atamian, all brigade trips are financed by students themselves.

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