Alexandria “Allie” Deal and Jade Heverly- Campbell founded UTSA chapters of Global Brigades, a student-led nonprofit network focused on health and development in underserved communities. Using their own funds, Allie and Jade led a group of 34 students and two doctors to Honduras.
What motivated you to start the UTSA Global Brigades?
Allie: I joined UT Austin’s chapter in 2012 on their trip to Honduras and fell in love with the cause. The local people were so happy, it made me speechless. When I came back, I thought to myself: We can do this at UTSA, too. So I started the UTSA Dental Brigade, and Jade the Medical Brigade.
The first all-UTSA trip was last August. How did it go?
Allie: It was great. Thirty-six students and two doctors came with us. The three little Honduran communities we served all were in desperate need of medical and dental care, so we would get up early in the morning, drive to a village, turn the local school into a makeshift hospital, and then treat the people all day. Many of them walked without shoes for hours just to get there. Even if they had to wait, they never complained. They were just all smiles and grateful that someone was helping.
Jade: An incredible, humbling experience that makes you reflect about the things we complain about.
How did you raise all that money, in addition to the flights?
Allie: The supplies were donated by doctors and dentists. But the costs of roughly $1,500 per student are an issue. The experience pays for itself, but it’s hard to convince people to spend this much just for the flight there.
Jade: Volunteers can reach out to friends and family, but also to dentists or doctors to be sponsored. And each volunteer has a personal “empowered page” where people can make official donations online. Others ask for donations in lieu of birthday or Christmas gifts.
What were the major needs of the locals?
Jade: The health problems were diverse, from treating stomach parasites to extracting teeth. But it started with the basics, like teaching kids how to use a toothbrush, or talking to women about sexual health and hygiene, even how to clean yourself after using the restroom. All treatments were overseen by doctors, who also explained to the students what they were doing and why.
Allie: We brought about $8,000 worth of medication and supplies with us.
What happens to the communities after the volunteers leave?
Jade: There’s a term called “voluntourism,” which means people go somewhere, help for a week and feel good about themselves. But as soon as they leave, it’s as if they were never there. Global Brigades, however, are completely focused on sustainable, community- based development. They only offer trips to four countries because they want to make it continuous and ongoing. Groups go there every three months and continue the previous work. There is staff in the countries, and locals are trained to keep up with basic screenings during the absence of volunteers. It’s really about empowering communities and not just giving aid.
Allie: Fixing teeth is one thing. But if people still use dirty, polluted water, it’s just a band aid, not a fix. Global Brigades has a holistic approach. Besides medical and dental, there are groups that focus on things like water, public health, law, architecture and business. For example, at the end of our trip, we helped with a water pipeline that a previous water brigade had been working on. The ultimate goal is always to help the entire community to a point where it can help itself.
What are your plans for 2014?
Allie: We’re looking at a trip in August 2014 to either Ghana or Honduras. And one of the students who went with us last year is starting a UTSA Water Brigade, so we’ll be three teams.
Jade: We’re also trying to tie the trip to an accredited academic internship, including the possibility to receive financial aid. Thankam Sunil, a professor in the Department of Sociology, is really trying to make this work.
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