I never thought I would have a chance to go to Central America, but a few months ago I made the decision to apply for a Global Brigades trip to Honduras. In August, I found myself on a medical/public health brigade in a beautiful country with a violent reputation that did not resemble my experience at all.
I have always been rather wary of trips like this. I do not believe that providing aid without working with the local community, without developing a plan for sustainability, can make a significant impact. However, after researching the Global Brigades mission and plan for success, I was impressed by their method of developing sustainable change. It is a success because of their holistic approach. They do not only provide medical aid, but also bring in microfinance, business, engineering, architecture, water, public health, and other professionals that educate people about personal finance, prevention, and planning when they don’t have access to that kind of education. I have a passion for global health and have always wanted to experience public health work outside of the classroom, so this trip seemed like an important experience.
The people we encountered in communities a few hours from the capital were profoundly kind, curious, and open. They taught us their language and customs; they wanted to share experiences and interact. They were also trapped in certain circumstances that hurt their health. Foremost, they lacked the education, safe resources and access to healthcare they needed to live long, healthy lives. They wanted to learn about basic sanitation, they wanted to live free from parasites and preventable infections, but they had contaminated water and they didn’t know the importance of washing their hands and brushing their teeth twice a day, among other things. With the proper education, they could take control of their circumstances and prevent certain health conditions that would otherwise control them.
My favorite part of the trip was going to a school and teaching young students there about the importance of basic sanitation and making healthy choices. A lot of the medical conditions that their parents suffered from were preventable, and we were able to teach them how to brush their teeth, filter their water, and make healthy food choices.
Another important mission of the trip was to promote gender equality. A large portion of the public health trip was manual labor- working alongside community members to build a bakery, a latrine, and a safer stove that wouldn’t have harmful respiratory effects. Some of the women we encountered did not believe that they could do the same labor as men. Watching us, some of the women started to join in on the projects and they were very proud at the end of the day when they saw what was accomplished. The bakery that was being built in the community would eventually employ a group of women who would otherwise be unemployed.
A week in a foreign country will not change the conditions in that country. However, with a lot of people trying to make a change and chipping in throughout their lives, I do believe that things can get better, little by little.
Things I learned & will try to keep in mind:
- You don’t need to go to a foreign country to help someone in need. There are plenty of ways to volunteer by your home; there are plenty of people that are in need in a nearby community. If you give a little bit of your time each month, you can make long-term impacts. Even if you give just a few hours of your time each week at a local shelter that can make a really great difference.
- Objects and money don’t equal happiness. When you are used to the standard of living that we have, it may be hard to distinguish between what is and isn’t important… But when you have just enough to live off of, the line between what is and isn’t becomes pretty clear. On a side note, many of us spend our lives trying to do as much as we can and accomplish as much as we can. When you near the end of your life, those aren’t always the things you cherish.
- Kids are the same all over the world and I am positive that I want to work with them for the rest of my life. They are equally as sneaky, funny, and silly anywhere you find them and they make the best of any situation. They are my biggest inspiration.
- Even if you encounter a language barrier, your biggest tool is a smile.
- On a day-to-day basis, you may or might not encounter serious gender equality issues, but there is so much more work that needs to be done on a global scale.
- We are very privileged to live in a country with accessible public education from K-12th grade.
- Health is a human right.