UT Students Take Rank with Global Brigades

Published: Sep 14, 2011
Fourteen young women from UT spent a week this August in Honduras building eco-stoves, latrines, cement floors and water storage tanks.
Fourteen young women from UT spent a week this August in Honduras building eco-stoves, latrines, cement floors and water storage tanks.
The focus of the trip was on sustainable projects that would benefit community health.
The focus of the trip was on sustainable projects that would benefit community health.
Katherine Chavez '12 works on a water storage tank. The projects were 20 percent financed by the homeowners with microloans organized in a community bank set up by previous Global Brigade volunteers.
Katherine Chavez '12 works on a water storage tank. The projects were 20 percent financed by the homeowners with microloans organized in a community bank set up by previous Global Brigade volunteers.
When 14 young women stumbled out of the van in the mountaintops of Honduras, their Honduran hosts seemed skeptical that they could do the manual labor set before them.

But after two days this late August, two completed latrines, two cemented floors, two constructed eco-stoves for cooking and two completed storage tanks for non-potable water, the hosts were amazed that the UT students finished ahead of schedule.

“It was intense labor,” said Carolina Remos ’11, the UT campus chairperson for Global Brigades. “We completed projects in two homes in two days, moving around 80-pound bags of concrete. And we all came back saying this was the best trip of our lives.”

The girls were in Honduras as part of the Global Brigades, an international, student-led organization that works for positive social change in global health and sustainable development. The organization has nine programs that range in focus from architecture to dentistry to water sanitation. The UT students participated in the public health program, though for 2012, Remos hopes to grow the UT chapter to include the microfinance, business, law and medical programs.

The 14 young women that participated in the Honduras trip Aug. 19-25 represented a variety of majors. Remos is double major in biology and communication. Michelle Sams ’12 is studying allied health.

“We felt safe and welcome. It was a great feeling being there,” said Sams, describing children running after their bus on arrival. Like many others on the trip, she has returned to campus with the “Honduran fever,” and can’t wait to return to a country she fell in love with. “We went to teach them something, and we didn’t realize how much they’d teach us.”

Remos formed the UT campus chapter last year and in just several months, led a fundraising effort of more than $21,000 to cover in-country expenses like building supplies, housing and meals. Each participant was asked to raise $750 plus flight fare for the trip. Some of the students only paid $50 out of pocket due to donations from friends and family, plus participating in more than 10 fundraisers hawking newspapers at Tampa Bay Rays games, selling clothes to thrift stores and even walking around a tailgate before a Kenny Chesney concert asking for contributions.

Global Brigades chooses the communities that are helped in Honduras and over a nine-month period, provides assessment and assistance in medical, water, microfinance and public health needs. Aside from Honduras, they also serve in Panama and Ghana.

The projects the UT students worked on were 20 percent financed by the homeowners with microloans organized in a community bank set up by previous Global Brigade volunteers. The students worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Honduran masons, communicating with Spanglish and pantomime. They also led educational health training workshops for adult, community volunteers.

“We spent two days with the families, getting to know them while working on the projects,” said Sams. “I won’t forget the expression on the face of the woman whose stove I was building when I was done. It took my breath away.”

It’s a home makeover like no other, changing the health of the families who live with limited access to basic services including clean water.

“If you can prevent health problems from the start, it makes for a healthier community,” said Sams, who wants to be a physician assistant.

Remos, who just returned last weekend from Global Brigades’ annual leadership conference at the University of Washington, said their pilot trip was the talk of the conference, having impressed the organization with the UT students’ interest and commitment.

Remos is anxious to expand the brigade programs at UT. Her goal is to have a microfinance group go to Honduras in March, and in May business and law groups go to Panama and medical and public health groups to Honduras. Those interested in participating should contact Remos at Carolina.remos@globalbrigades.org. The campus chapter will start meeting regularly in mid-October.

 
Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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